Jesus Fucking Christ, “Hard Knocks” is pretty goddamn awesome. This motherfucker might be the best fucking show currently airing episodes on TV. Since I spend my entire day impersonating Rex Ryan, I’ll stop doing it now. Except for the part where I continually gorge on junk food. OK, one more. I’m gonna write this shit like it’s going on fucking Ruthless Reviews and not some fucking slap-dick site. In case it has somehow escaped you, Jets coach Rex Ryan is the star of the show and one of the most entertaining people on earth. I’m going to dedicate the next few years to creating a spermal fusion process so that we might have children together.
The greatness of “Hard Knocks” can be boiled down to two facts- First, that HBO and NFL Films are an absurdly good documentary team. It’s almost kind of a Wade/LeBron thing where you’re like, “will it work, given that they both need the ball?” Uh, yeah. It will work, you jackass.
The second thing is where I want to reel in the non-NFL fan, if I haven’t lost you already. Maybe you are part of our 93% Scandinavian readership. Maybe you are part of our readership of women who somehow clicked on the site by mistake while trying to buy shoes online because you are a bit shaky with any kind of technology not directly related to food preparation. But this is primarily a drama and it just so happens that the NFL offers the best potential drama of any sport in the world due to it’s scale and magnitude.
Football is the most popular sport in America and America is the richest country in the world. So the analogy of football players to Roman gladiators runs well. Episode one gives you a really good sense of this, in how the locals and media swarm about the Jets, perennial also-rans who have a chance to do something this season. But “Hard Knocks” is about the preseason, and this swarming occurs before the preseason. Which touches on a second point that many will miss: this is largely a fabrication, in the Romareican tradition. Part of the awe factor is the incredible size of NFL stadiums and the number of people they hold. But oddly enough the stadiums are filled with mostly dupes who’ve been drawn in by the hype. Having attended sporting events from college football, to minor league baseball, to horse racing, to soccer in a country where they care about soccer, I can say that the NFL ranks a distant last as a live event. It is a great sport only when filtered through TV and it really shines in this tripple filtered format. All of the schmucks who fork over hundreds of dollars to fill out the stands and scratch their asses during the 19 commercial time outs are crucial props. So what you wind up with is millions of people watching 80,000 people watching 22 guys play a season that lasts only 16 games, which makes every one important. And even those late season games that aren’t very important have the GDP of El Salvador bet on them. And the majority of us are smart enough to stay at home or hit a bar, having bet a week’s wages on a band of hulking illiterates, wallowing like pigs in cubes and mini kegs of beer, salted fat and one of the very most intense athletic displays in the world. This is the basis of a multi-billion dollar enterprise. It must be.
Now, the show isn’t really about all of that directly, those are just the stakes.That is the weight of what these men are playing for. Because of the 53 man roster and a mediocre union, most NFL players aren’t very well paid and the violence of the game means short careers. But to make a regular NFL roster is to touch the sun. When some girl asks you what you do for a living, there aren’t a lot of answers that beat, “I’m on the New York Jets.” Even if you are the 53rd guy. And suppose your career is short and soon forgotten. Apart from having had sex with roughly 4 million models, if you have any kind of head on your shoulders, you will be starting out life at 26 with, say, half a million dollars in the bank. Or, you could be a big, condomlessm talented, horror show like Antonio Cormarte and have seventeen kids whose names you can barely remember. Either way is pretty interesting TV.
So far, most of the same could be said of international soccer. And for what it’s worth, I would cut off my arm to see a version of “Hard Knocks” about a Premersop team. But the second thing that makes the NFL so perfect for this show is the cliff these guys are standing on. The cut off they are looking at isn’t Man City to Hull City, or maybe some team in Russia. Yeah, there are a couple of pro leagues that pay a bit above minimum wage and nobody cares about. But the real line here is between playing for The Jets, a feather you can wear forever, and working at Wal-Mart. Ask Curt Warner, who literally went from grocery clerk to NFL MVP and deca-millionaire and national celebrity whose wife had to revamp her looks for the cameras, just because some random guy correctly thought he might be good enough for the NFL. If that random scout hadn’t taken to him, he’d probably still be bagging Apple Jax. And that is what is unique about the NFL and makes this such great TV. While future hall of famer, Kurt Warner was once bagging groceries., some guy working in a video store is not going to emerge as the next striker at Real Madrid or hit 45 home runs for The Mets.. And, no matter how much he fucks up this season, even though he is fucking great so far this year,there was always a 0% chance of Theo Walcott looking for a job at a hardware store from the time he was thirteen or so. The same goes for Bryce Harper, John Wall or Taylor Hall. Those guys are already set for life. But this edition of “Hard Knocks” features their NFL equivalent, Joe McKnight and his fate is far less certain. He was once the best high school player in the country. He’ll be paid this year and probably next, but not money he can retire on. And if he doesn’t pan out, he won’t go play in Italy or Japan. He’ll have to fall back on the degree he got from US… oh wait, he doesn’t even have that. Here’s a picture of him. This is a picture of a man who failed an NFL conditioning test.
So that is the stage. The actors are sublime and HBO really just gives NFL Films the freedom they never had before. The saga of an NFL team is best told bleeplessly. One star is special teams coach Mike “I don’t care what they do. Do what we do well and we can win… Redskins/Fuck Them” Westoff. And the show is packed with such moments of greatness.
How does America’s potential answer to David Beckham, Mark “Sanchize” Sanchez bitch about having to pay 49 cents for dipping sauces from Pizza Hut and still come off as likable?
There’s a definite racial component to the show. It’s manifested in many ways, but one that strikes me is how a black guy who wouldn’t even consider backing down from a fight with Brock Lessner holding a machete, is terrified by a water slide. It’s a classic “white people crazy” moment.
One of the most interesting things about professional sports is that the ability level and compensation are so far our of whack with the rest of the world that the guys who make it to the top are pretty arbitrary. The whole jock/nerd thing falls away when you have to run a 4.3 second forty yard dash or throw a ball eighty yards. I think the heart of the Terrell Owens story line, which epitomizes this point, is that the guy is just a nerd born into one of the best jock bodies of all time. You catch glimpses of this throughout the show. Damian Woody seems clever enough to succeed in some other business, which is probably why he’s done so well in the NFL. You wonder, would “Sanchize” do better if he was famous for touring the famous sewers of Paris Hilton or something. And maybe McKnight’s lifelong status as top jock will be his undoing. But then Nick Mangold, who comes across as a meathead’s meathead has a contract that should mean his great grand kids never lift a finger.
Thinking back, it seems like most of the NFL greats have some element of social awkwardness. Maybe it is because they aren’t christened as future millionaires when they are thirteen. The poster boy for swaggering to stardom, Joe Namath, does put in a cameo. But when I think of most NFL greats, like Montana, Peyton and Rice, they seem like guys who could just as easily be working at a car rental business.
So, what am I getting at here? The fundamental appeal of the show is watching such a wide range of guys who happen to have very particular, freakish athletic abilities competing for just about the highest stakes imaginable. With Rex Ryan as the MC, I can’t think of anything I’d rather watch. You know, besides pornography.