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Still crying over a fictional character’s death from a movie you saw years ago? Having trouble letting go of that one episode of your favorite series? Grieving a gone-too-soon show? We are, too — so with this column, EW staffers pay tribute to something in the pop culture world they’re still not over. This time, Samantha Highfill remembers Tim Riggins going to jail on Friday Night Lights.
Tim Riggins was far from a perfect person. He cheated his way through high school. He slept with his best friend’s girlfriend. He drove drunk… while underage. Then there was that time he and his brother, Billy, stole copper wire. But Tim also had one of the biggest hearts of anyone in Dillon. And, as Coach Taylor told him after Tim took the fall for Julie’s drunken night in season 2, Tim was “honorable.”
Plus, if you looked past the unwashed (but amazing) hair and general disinterest in most things, Tim Riggins was an optimist. He had dreams. Sure, in the pilot of Friday Night Lights, that dream might’ve been to ride Street’s coattails, but it was still a dream, one he believed would come true, despite the hand life had dealt him. This was a guy whose two biggest mottos were “Let’s make some memories” and “No regrets.” At the end of the day, Tim’s life was going to be memorable.
But after Street was paralyzed, Tim had to adjust his dream. It took him a bit, but by the third season of Friday Night Lights, his new dream was less about football and more about a happily-ever-after with Lyla Garrity — even if it meant going to college. But Tim was never going to put himself before someone he loved, so when he heard Lyla was contemplating giving up Vanderbilt to stay in Texas and attend San Antonio State with him, he told her to go. Giving up his dream for hers, he told her that she was so much better than San Antonio State: “I’m not gonna be that guy to stop you from achieving your dreams. Don’t make me be that guy.”
Without football and without Lyla, Tim struggled to find a new dream. In season 4, after realizing college wasn’t for him, he returned home to Dillon, unsure of what came next. Throughout that fourth season, we watched him do a bit of soul-searching until he figured out exactly what he wanted: to open a car garage with his brother and live on his land in Texas… forever.
But there’s one thing I haven’t mentioned about Tim. His greatest downfall was his circumstances, and more specifically, his screw-up of a brother. Billy, like Tim, usually meant well, but Billy rarely did the right thing. And when he started using their garage as a chop shop, he made the biggest mistake of his life — and ultimately, the biggest mistake of Tim’s life.
Although Tim hated the idea, he ended up helping Billy for a bit, and when the cops showed up, Tim once again put those he loved ahead of himself. But this time, it wasn’t as relatively harmless as taking the fall for Julie Taylor or breaking his own heart by letting Lyla go. He was, as he later put it, screwing up his life so that Billy could fix his.
After Billy’s son was born, Tim realized his brother had an opportunity to be a father, and Tim had the chance to give his nephew the very thing he and his brother never had. So, in what remains one of the most heartbreaking scenes I’ve ever watched, our precious Tim Riggins decides to take the fall for his idiot brother, walking to the police station to take full credit for the chop shop. After that, Tim was never the same.
We did see Tim get out of jail in the show’s fifth and final season, but his “no regrets” outlook on life had been overshadowed by one very big regret. There was a new darkness inside of Tim that he couldn’t quite shake, and I will never, EVER forgive Billy for everything that went down. Tim deserved better. As Buddy Garrity put it at Tim’s parole hearing, “This young man has done a lot of things wrong. He is not a bad young man and he is certainly not a criminal… This kid right here has got more heart than almost any person I know.”
And nothing was more devastating than watching Tim’s heart — the greatest thing about him — be the very thing that took him down. My only bit of solace? Knowing that Tim Riggins never stayed down for long.