Admittedly, I came late to the party. Mostly because I have never watched any TV shows derived from movies that merited even the slightest attention (Animal House – the sitcom anyone?). So for years I ignored the Panthers and Coach Taylor like I avoid bad reality TV (as there is no good reality TV, you get the picture). But sometime in January of this year I took my daughter’s advice and watched FNL’s (that’s how us insiders refer to the show) pilot episode on Netflix. Well, the next thing I know I’m on Season 3 and completely hooked. By the time I completed Season 4 and learned that Season 5 would not begin for a couple of months, I found myself so immersed in the world of Dillon, TX I even considered moving to Midland-Odessa (not really, but sounds good).
Much has already been said by various commentators in the week leading up to last night’s series finale in laudatory pieces praising the acting, the writing, and innovative camera work. All accurately describe reasons why FNL goes down as one of the best dramas on TV. But rarely do series’ finales accomplish what FNL’s last show did by capturing the essence of what made the show great in the first place.
At first I was a little disappointed by the end of last night’s State Final. As in most of the games, Coach Taylor’s team trailed with seconds to go. With only the “hail Mary” left between losing and winning the State championship, we watched while Vince avoided the rush and launched a bomb towards the end zone. Instead of showing the catch or non-catch however, it cut to a ball flying through the air on a practice field in Philadelphia eight months later, where Coach Taylor accepted a job so his wife could accept her dream job. Then, we saw Vince taking a snap wearing the uniform of the Dillon Panthers with a State Championship ring on his finger. The show finished with quick cuts of other main characters carrying on with their lives as well.
My initital disappointment was not seeing the Championship moment, instead making us figure out the winner through visual clues, and giving us definitive scenes of a future to which we will not be apart. However, it’s clear now FNL ended true to itself and the fans by focusing not on winning, but the fact that life goes on irrespective of the game’s outcome. Coach Taylor would have left win or lose, the School District was cutting East Dillon football program, win or lose, Luke was joining the Army, win or lose, and Buddy would continue his beloved booster role, win or lose. Not that winning was unimportant or people unaffected by an outcome. Just that FNL’s best element was its ability to dramatize life through the prism of sports and competition; competition against other players but also against the roadblocks people encounter every day.
So as we bid farewell to the Panthers, the Lions, the Taylors and the town we know as Dillon, just remember, “Clear Eyes, Full Heart, Can’t Lose,” on or off the field.