LOS ANGELES — The 2013 season of HBO’s excellent “Hard Knocks” opened Tuesday with some of the Cincinnati Bengals rookies out to dinner with running backs coach Hue Jackson, who was offering sage advice on the eve of the neophytes’ first NFL training camp. Jackson, the former Raiders head coach, was also busting on Giovani Bernard for driving his girlfriend’s mom’s Honda minivan. Bernard said that any car with automatic doors was good enough for him; hard to argue. Almost simultaneously, all-world receiver A.J. Green was getting himself into, and learning how to shift, a brand new BMW luxury sedan. The difference between the two players’ football worlds was clearly on display: one an unknown rookie whose potential seems as high as the Queen City’s skyline, the other a league superstar who’s only getting better and brighter by the day.
There was a line the brilliant narrator Liev Schreiber said during the hour-long episode that struck me: the Bengals are thinking Super Bowl, which is amazing to think about considering where the team was a few years ago during its first go-around on “Hard Knocks” in 2009. Then, Cincinnati was a team with just one winning season in 18 years – the forgetful 2005 campaign which saw Carson Palmer go down in the playoffs against the Steelers with an injured knee – and in that span suffered 13 losing seasons and 4 years of 8-8. You don’t get the nickname “Bungals” for nothing. But something funny happened during that ’09 season: a return to the playoffs. In the aftermath, Palmer threatened sit out or retire before he was finally traded to Oakland mid-year, and a 4-win season in 2010 yielded a new era and leader: Andy Dalton. The result has been back-to-back postseason berths.
And that’s where we are when “Hard Knocks: 2013” begins, Andy Dalton doing pilates with his wife and Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis bluntly stating how the team hasn’t won a playoff game despite being in the tournament 3-of-the-last 4 years. Will Cincinnati be among the final two teams when Super Bowl XLVII kicks off this February in New Jersey? My Magic 8 Ball says “check back later.” That’s the NFL’s beauty; no one knows. But what I do know is for the next 4 weeks I’m going to enjoy the hell out of the all-access look at this new beast of the AFC North.
Lots of thoughts from this week’s premiere episode. In no particular order:
- Geno Atkins has the biggest traps/shoulders I’ve ever seen. Is there even a neck on that dude? And I don’t know where that first pitch ended up, but I’m guessing it wasn’t a strike. Though I’m not going to tell him that.
- James Harrison is still, hands down, the scariest dude in the NFL. Didn’t you get the feeling that when Jay Gruden was joking to him about not touching A.J. Green that Harrison was completely serious that he was really going to jack Green up if he came across the middle? Even when Gruden tried to play it off, Harrison never broke. Just pure mean. How great was that montage of him flipping off the HBO cameras or slamming the door in their faces? What a first class a–hole. And who’s Ford station wagon was he getting into? Dude barely fit in the back seat!?
- Marvin Lewis; nice digs, son.
- Of course Pac-Man Jones would run out of gas minutes from the stadium on the first day of Training Camp. That is the most Pac-Man Jones of all things he could’ve done. Ya know, aside from shoot somebody in a “script club.” And could you imagine being that guy’s wife?
- Devastating what happened to Larry Black. Just shows how unreal the raw emotion this show seems to capture year-in and year-out when Black was on the phone with his dad (I’m guessing). I was wondering when the producers were going to introduce the player we all should care about and as soon as they did, he went down. Tragic. Wonder who that player will be next week.
- How many of you out there had the same “damn, I need to get him in fantasy” thought I did during that Tyler Eifert catching montage? Dude is going to be a MONSTER in the red zone this year.
- Does anyone really know what “Who Dey?” means? ‘Cuz I sure don’t.
- Think about this for a minute: if you were to have an Oklahoma Drill at your work, how would you stack up against the competition? And would you rather be on offense or defense?
- It never ceases to amaze me how great “Hard Knocks” is at making me care about a team that, under completely normal circumstances, I’d have zero interest in; same thing happened last year with the Dolphins. Oh, and if you’re scoring at home: Lauren Tannehill > Jordan Dalton. (look them up yourself)
- On that note, I didn’t even have the Bengals on my “Hard Knocks Wish List” that I wrote back in May: check it out.
- Cool off-day montage with some of the guys playing golf (terribly), air hockey and backyard ladder at Dalton’s house. You forget that these Sunday gladiators of the gridiron are really just 20-something year old kids who just wanna play football and have a good time.
- As always, the footage the HBO crew gets is beyond spectacular. The slo-mo montage of players walking out for their first practice into their throws, catches, runs and hits gave me chills. Of course, the music selection helped tap into that emotion. In case you were wondering, the track was “Feeling Good (Bassnectar Remix)” by Nina Simone. Yes, I went back and Shazam’d it.
What did everyone else think?