Every year, Hard Knocks is an incomparable way to start the pro football season, unless the Rams are being profiled. At its heart, the series focuses on three different parts of a football team: the coach/front office, veterans/stars, and fringe players fighting for a spot on the team. Their stories are told with exclusive video and behind-the-scenes access and polished with lightning-fast editing, time-lapse video of stadiums, and montages. SO MANY MONTAGES.
This year: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Let’s dive in.
Let’s familiarize ourselves with the lay of the land:
- Practice fields
- New practice facility (under construction)
- Team offices, maybe?
- Strip clubs and real estate scams
- Tacky-ass atrium for displaying sculptural abominations
- Pirate ship dry dock
- The biggest goddamn flag we could find. No! BIGGER, I said! GET ME A BIGGER FLAG
- Sinkhole filled with escaped exotic pets
The Star Players
When the NFL announced that the Bucs would star in this season’s Hard Knocks, my stomach churned. I wondered exactly how long it would take for the series to frame the young star quarterback in a positive light, given the history of sordid allegations he’s dodged due to his talent.
The answer: maybe 10-15 seconds after the credits ran. The show opens with Winston in his hometown of Bessemer, Ala., returning to the simple low-slung house where he spent his early years. His childhood room is not a good room for a child.
Winston also familiarizes the audience with the Coors Light graveyard on the side of the house where everyone urinates, pausing only to point out a cockroach on the steps of the porch. And whether you saw the episode or not, you definitely need this speech in its entirety:
“This area right here, this is basically where all the men pee when the bathroom is held up. So we would just stand right here— What’s up cockroach, you good? We just killed one. Aw, they matin’. No, she havin’ a baby. This cockroach havin’ a baby! The cockroach havin’ a baby, f’real. You see it? Look. This is Mother Nature at its best. I feel like the Crocodile Hunter, with roaches. But this, we just pee right here.”
It’s an undeniably charming, unscripted moment for a multimillionaire revisiting his old pissing grounds.
Later, while leading a football camp, Winston singles out the lone girl, celebrating her leadership. This is an improvement from last year, when Winston, while visiting an elementary school, said that girls should be silent before singling out the boys in the room and encouraging them to be strong.
Hard Knocks depicts Winston as an intelligent, talented, and vocal young leader — for his team, and for his community. I hope that’s who he really is. I’ll admit, though, that the Tallahassee Police Department’s negligence in investigating the allegation of rape against Winston, as reported by The New York Times, remains fresh in my mind. I don’t intend to make this a talking point every episode, but it’s only fair to acknowledge Winston’s history. Hard Knocks certainly won’t.
McCoy, seen here arriving at camp in a dragon kimono, is not merely a three-time All-Pro defensive tackle; he is also — through one episode of Hard Knocks — the nicest guy on the team. He feels awful about accidentally hitting Winston during practice (“They’re gonna trade me!”). He praises his teammates. He lightens the load of rookies carrying the veterans’ gear (“You gotta serve before you can lead”).
And if that’s not enough, he’s a doting father.
Singing a song about the items on your kid’s Gap pajamas is the single most relatable thing that happened for me in this episode (second place: Winston’s face when hearing about Marriott rewards). My blind spot as a human is a free pass for anyone I perceive to be a caring and attentive father, so McCoy could be a tax cheat and habitual drunk driver and I wouldn’t mind. He did bath time!
Also, I was going to issue a safety warning about children wearing necklaces to bed (it’s a choking hazard!), but look at that beefy boy. A mountain lion couldn’t take him down. He doesn’t have choking hazards.
DeSEAN JACKSON and MIKE EVANS
Whether they’re riffing on Jackson’s emoji-patterned sleeve or practicing daps, Evans and Jackson make good television. Despite their age gap — Evans said he used to play as Jackson’s team on Madden when he was younger — they have an easy, natural chemistry on-screen. Evans relayed the story of texting Jackson to recruit him during free agency; he didn’t realize that Jackson was already in the process of signing with the Bucs.
They’re great. And Hard Knocks is going to destroy any hope of you getting either of them at a fair value for your fantasy team.
The Front Office
GM: JASON LICHT
This is a scene where Licht talks to Mike Smith — last seen on Hard Knocks boring us to tears as the Falcons’ head coach — about the construction crew working on the Bucs’ new practice facility. And if you think a discussion between two middle-aged white guys about construction sounds boring, well, maybe you just haven’t seen enough construction montages.
HEAD COACH: DIRK KOETTER
Standard-issue NFL coach. I’m assuming Koetter was hired when the owner yelled, “Get me someone who looks like Pete Carroll!”
“We found a guy, but he’s super boring.”
“Great, write 30,000 word about him and put it on our website.”
COACH EMERITUS: JON GRUDEN
Former coach Jon Gruden gets paraded around the staff and players this episode, ostensibly because he’ll be added to the Bucs’ Ring of Honor in December, but c’mon: The Tampa Bay brain trust has all the panache of a big bowl of mayonnaise. Gruden’s here to liven up the episode and show fans what a coach with enthusiasm is like. Heck, I bet a statue of Gruden would be livelier than Koetter.
This is the Tampa of sculpture. The E.J. Manuel of football art. I will never in my life see a tackier football sculpture than this atrocity in the Bucs’ football-shaped atrium. And buddy, I’ve seen Jerry Richardson striding confidently among panthers.
Players on the Fringe
Meet Evan Panfil. He’s trying to make the team as a lineman.
OK, say goodbye to Evan Panfil. He got cut.
McNichols is a dynamic running back who is nicknamed McWeapon because football players and coaches are extremely bad at nicknames. Back at the team hotel, McNichols receives guidance from his youth football coach, Snoop Dogg.
Snoop is the second-most passionate football coach in this episode — behind Gruden, but ahead of the statue of Gruden.
Bullough is an undrafted rookie linebacker who gets singled out in a team meeting by Koetter for being a good leader. At the rookie talent show, he is the only player who sings remotely well (his version of “679” is more soulful than Fetty Wap’s, not that the bar is all that high.)
He denies looking like Joe Dirt.
Tuesday’s premiere featured a whopping SEVEN montages, which is a lot of montages even for the montage-iest show on television, which Hard Knocks most assuredly is. Were there low-angle shots of the grounds crew working during the golden hour? You know it!
What about aerial shots of the practice facility at sunset? OH HELL YEAH.
And players practicing in slow-motion? Did they have any of that? SO MUCH EPIC SLOW-MOTION THAT I FELL BACK IN LOVE WITH FOOTBALL AND SUDDENLY NEED THE SEASON TO START.
- Practice montage, rainy — Slow-motion rain, man. That shit looks epic as hell.
- Practice montage, sunny — The show’s first prolonged football action set to great music.
- Off-day montage — Bonus points for a nod to The Big Lebowski.
- DeSean Jackson montage — He’s fast.
- Jameis Winston montage — He has good feet.
- Dirk Koetter working the touchscreen depth chart montage — Only its brevity kept it from falling to last place.
- Construction montage — I was as bored as the poor players sitting in that special teams meeting.
Top draft pick O.J. Howard was completely absent save for a moment when Riley Bullough broke up a pass intended for the rookie tight end ... Cornerback Brent Grimes and his outspoken wife, Miko, appeared only in the tease for next week’s episode ... Running back Doug Martin’s only job was moonwalking and shooing rookies offstage ... Roberto Aguayo and Nick Folk’s kicking battle looks slated for next week ... What does Lavonte David have to do to get some shine?