[Please note: The following preamble to my review of episode 1 of this season’s Hard Knocks on HBO, featuring the Houston Texans, is unsuitable for children under the age of 17, not unlike episode 1 of Hard Knocks. Consider yourself warned.]
Holy f***in’ shit. What a f***in’ start. Can we all just go ahead and agree that this is hands-down the greatest season of Hard Knocks EVER? I mean, it really isn’t even f***in’ close. And we’re one episode in, people! How many other teams have the star power, are as f***in’ bad*ss as this year’s Houston Texans? F***in’ none, that’s how many. Just look at the cast of characters. You’ve got f***in’ Rick-Ross-loving, filthy-mouthed-yet-lovable future coach-of-the-year Bill O’Brien. You have the biggest, toughest son of a b*** NFL star the football world has ever seen. I’m talking about you, Mr. JJ Watt-the-f***. You got Vince Wilfork, as huggable as a teddy bear, if there was a teddy bear the size of the Grand Canyon and it had great m*****-f***ing comic timing. And what about everybody’s favorite up-and-coming loudmouth superstar, DeAndre Hopkins? I don’t know about you, but I want my receivers buying yorkies for their European man-purses. Oh, and Brian Cushing? I guess it wasn’t enough to spend the entire offseason raping and pillaging on Game of Thrones, because he came to training camp ready to f*** someone up. I’m serious.
Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s begin.
Episode 1 started off with a stem-winder of a speech that would have made Vince Lombardi proud and deserves to be quoted in its entirety:
Let’s be honest with each other. This place has no respect in the League. Just so you guys are all aware of that. This organization is 96-126. 30 games below 500. Turn your TV on. Nobody talks about the Houston Texans. Because no one thinks we’re going to win. And the disrespect that they show our quarterbacks — I’m tired of that too. Because both of those kids can play. They just need a chance, and one of them is gonna get it. All right, enough is enough. Every player that’s out there — all 90 players — are players that I wanted. For the 2015 season. When you f***in’ guys show up to practice tomorrow, they better be ready to f***in’ go.
It occurs to me: Say what you will about O’Brien. It was the long, hard look in the mirror that the franchise needed to hear.
As for the rest of the episode, things just went from bad to worse from there, so the show just got better and better. First you get Wilfork playing catch with an elephant. I’m not even gonna speculate about what HBO was trying to say with that. Then they torture us with a few minutes of some other team getting Super Bowl rings (Wilfork’s former one, the Patriots). Next, we get JJ Watt flipping giant tires and trying to rap. (Spoiler alert: he’s better at the flipping tires.) Following that, right on cue, comes our regular reminder that Arian Foster will always get injured eventually, no matter how hard/carefully he trains with his brother.
Rookie Kevin Johnson introduces himself next, along with his Ravens cheerleader sister, in a vignette set on the family yacht in Annapolis, Md. (Are they rich or something?) Then it’s back to O’Brien, this time quizzing rookies on basic knowledge of the Texans organization. Duane Brown gets a chance to remind us all just how thoughtful a husband can be, delivering Café Express to his wife Devi at 93.7. Linebackers coach Vrabel gives us all a lesson in how to curse, rookie linebacker Rashard Cliett tears his ACL, ending his season before it begins, even as another coach, Sean Hayes, gives one of the all-time best impressions ever of Macho Man Randy Savage, and center Ben Jones twangs his way through a story from the old days, when he puked on the ball before snapping it to a quarterback. Wilfork shows us his best Michael Jordan basketball moves. A few other rookies explore Houston’s natural wonders (yep, the bat colony under the Waugh Street bridge). That kind of thing.
Let’s see, what else. Oh, we get a 5-minute slow-mo montage of JJ’s workout regimen. (Okay, we get it. He’s a stud.) We chuckle uncomfortably at a wonderful (if inappropriate) joke about a child and his math teacher delivered by Wilfork himself. Coach O’Brien reminds us that the number-one quarterback is still to be decided. Johnson reminds us why he was drafted in the first round. Hopkins does some jawing and breaks some ankles courtesy of veteran hack DeAngelo Hall. And then, at last, what we’ve been waiting for all summer: a surprisingly serious scrimmage between the Texans and Redskins. Football is back, people!
Episode 2 starts with another inspiring/ass-chewing speech from Bill O’Brien, followed by some Wilfork and Watt hijinks (Future BFF’s perhaps?). Rookie Lynden Trail gets the rookie treatment and gets cut from practice early by Vrabel. Cushing reminds us that he’s an animal, destroying running back Alfred Blue during practice drills. O’Brien does a little media training with the newbies.
What’s a pro athlete do when he isn’t on the field? House shopping and mall shopping, apparently, sez HBO. Hopkins considers what purchasing a yorkie might say about his manhood, O’Brien reboards the F-bomb train, ripping into his coaches for not stepping things up a notch during practice, and away way from camp, we pop in on Jadeveon Clowney in rehab, which seems to be coming along.
Then it’s time to dig in deep on this season’s BIG DECISION: will it be Brian Hoyer or Ryan Mallet at QB? Both look like leaders and both are making the plays we all want to see — although from where this fan is sitting, Hoyer definitely seems to have the edge presently.
Cushing shows the world how we all should be walking our children — by not walking. Second-year cornerback Charles James II lets us in on his sock game (which is unique if not on point), followed by a preview of just how serious he is about his actual game (he positively rips into rookie Corey Moore). Then, BEST MOMENT IN THE EPISODE: when Coach OB yells “Rick Ross …Whooo!” followed by some dancing. Cushing and Watt get lessons by Jackson and Joseph on not how not to use a cup. We get an up-close look at Jaelen Strong’s inability to catch a pass, then get to see just how bad NFL players are at barbering (during the perennial cut-the-rookies’-hair ritual).
The episode ends with a beginning—the first preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers—and some highs and lows, everything from Hoyer’s long TD pass to Cecil Shorts III, to the Texans’ difficulty punching in a touchdown from the goal line even after seven tries. That’s right, I said seven tries. Things do end on an optimistic note, however, with Strong vindicating himself, making an excellent catch for a touchdown.
Quarterback battles! Injured stars! Cursing! Wilfork jokes! JJ Watt practicing! More cursing! What more does any great season of Hard Knocks need???