I had read that the first episode of Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the New York Jets was boring. After making up for it Thursday night, I agree…to a certain extent.
The formula of “Hard Knocks,” which has been on HBO (now Max for some moronic corporate reason) since the Baltimore Ravens were introduced ahead of the 2001 season, is well known, and I agree with Stale if you want to take it that far.
Aside from a lovely scene from cornerback Sauce Gardner’s college graduation, the first episode lacked inspiration for secondary storylines – we’ll get to the main story in a moment – so badly that it spawned a convoluted subplot about the actor and voice actor of “Hard Knocks.” Liev Schreiber’s visit to camp (by helicopter, no less) yielded a decent amount of space.
And yet me desperate I wish the show would go on with the Jets for the whole season instead of just five episodes in preseason. In the regular season, when the best of plans go haywire, this team gets interesting, and in chaotic ways the Jets players and coaches didn’t anticipate now during this honeymoon period with a certain “enlightened” new quarterback.
At some point this season, I promise you, the first episode and the entire season of this show will be looked back on with amusement. Because Aaron Rodgers, the Jets’ biggest quarterback hope since Joe Namath hobbled to Los Angeles, is desperate to act like a normal person. Such a move will inevitably prove to be a farce long before this season’s schedule is complete.
I’m not saying the Jets will go the way of the Kyrie Irving Nets this year. I’m just saying I wouldn’t be surprised if Rodgers shows up at Gillette Stadium in week 18 and waves incense everywhere.
The dynamic between 39-year-old Rodgers, who won four Most Valuable Player awards and a Super Bowl in 18 seasons with the Packers, and his new team is just odd. Some of his teammates are excited. Receiver Mecole Hardman, who spent the first four seasons of his career sitting with a real-life unicorn in Patrick Mahomes, cheerfully tells Rodgers he’s watched him his entire life. Rodgers smiles but looks like he wants to yell, “Cut! Cut!” Cut!” at the cameraman.
Then there’s Jeff Ulbrich. The Jets’ defensive coordinator, who looks uncharmingly like Dan Campbell, shows his defense a snippet of training and says, “I don’t know if there’s another person in the world who can do that.” [expletive] throw. He’s our quarterback. He’s ours. He’s ours. [Expletive] Extraordinary man.” Watching Zach Wilson last year, as a coach, one tends to exaggerate the newcomer, I suppose.
Rodgers, meanwhile, keeps his wannabe charm on display as the “Jeopardy” host, but he’s not a good enough actor to keep it from feeling performative. The Jets had to be pushed by the league to perform on “Hard Knocks,” but Rodgers is acting like it’s his favorite thing in the world and he’s keenly aware of the cameras. “I’ll give you something good [expletive] today,” he says to a cameraman as he steps onto the field.
Rodgers is trying. He is vocal and engaging. But not even Schreiber, who was uncanny as former Globe editor Marty Baron on “Spotlight,” can lend Rodgers authenticity. Rodgers refers to Schreiber as the “voice of God,” but their pitchside conversations during practice are stilted and awkward. Self-aware, Schreiber notes that he’s “just screwing John Facenda,” referring to the iconic voice from the heyday of NFL Films.
Hard Knocks has never resembled the best NFL movies. It’s fun but formulaic, a controlled environment presented as the unvarnished truth. But this year’s edition will have staying power. It will be an artifact from the days when Aaron Rodgers was on his best behavior and everything was fine for the New York Jets for a moment.
G-League documentation recommended
Highly recommended “Destination NBA: AG League Odyssey“, a documentary produced by Religion of Sports and Spotify’s The Ringer, currently available on Amazon Prime. The documentary maker followed a small but diverse roster of players in the basketball development league last season. Among those featured are Scoot Henderson, No. 3 overall, and Denzel Valentine, an NBA veteran who spent last season with the Maine Celtics… Congratulations to former Globe NBA author Marc Spears for breaking the curt during the Naismith Gowdy Print Media Award Received The Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies will be held this weekend. The award is presented annually to media representatives who have made a significant contribution to the game of basketball through their efforts. Spears, now at ESPN’s Andscape, was an excellent teammate during his time at the Globe. I remember him occasionally sending out email blasts — a must-read story he’d seen, or maybe a good joke — and on his CC list of recipients was about two-thirds of the NBA. He knows everyone and everyone knows and likes him.
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