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McGraw is not totally risk averse a neutral mention of abortion on his 2002 hit Red Ragtop was a country watershed but in general he is too cautious and too willing to compromise his individual perspective to be considered a significant artist. It's a shame, given that his biography is rich territory: he was born dirt poor, he discovered as an adolescent that his father was the late big-league pitcher Tug McGraw, and he was rejected by almost every record label for being too ordinary before becoming a star when Curb Records finally took a chance on him in 1992. But McGraw is still somehow greater than the sum of his songs, in large part because, while his message can appear calculated, his charisma is authentic. In concert, when he gets a chance to blast his exuberant Everydudeness to the back row, he can make even the most conventional music seem inspirational. He has, as TIME's Joe Klein wrote in frustration and admiration of Clinton in The Natural, the "ability to charm almost anyone under any circumstances."
While he waits for the right time for his Senate run, McGraw is doing the other thing that people with big personalities do. Director Peter Berg cast him as an alcoholic father and ex-athlete in Friday Night Lights, a high school football drama starring Billy Bob Thornton (due Oct. 15). "I didn't know if he could act," says Berg, "but what we were looking for was somebody who would just seem real to an audience. And Tim does that. You look at him, you believe what he has to say." McGraw thinks he simply fell into a part he could do without stretching. Hollywood interests him, but only a few minutes pass before his mind drifts back East, flying right over Nashville toward what may be his truest calling. "It'd be great to be in a position to do something good for people," he says. "Wouldn't Faith make a great Senator's wife?"