College football is probably not happening at all this Fall, but at least we still have the NFL, right? …Right? Honestly it’s still up in the air, but at the very least, there’s Hard Knocks on HBO to fill the void. Hard Knocks is the long-running docuseries that gives us entertainment junkies everything we love about sports: the human interest stories! Xs and Os are for Nate Silver and the stats kissers. What I want to know is, which player came from a broken home? Who’s the guy no one believed in fighting for a spot on the practice squad? Which musclebound lineman secretly runs a shelter for disabled cats? FEED ME THE STORIES. Sports docs are my crack, for reasons I don’t entirely understand.
This year’s Hard Knocks, if you didn’t know, takes us to sunny Los Angeles, California, for training camp with both the Rams and the Chargers (sharing SoFi stadium, as soon as it’s ready), which is fitting for the Chargers, a team that abandoned the only city that ever gave a shit about them and will probably only ever sell tickets based on the draw of the opposing team.
Uh, anyway… it’s the first time in Hard Knocks‘ long run (Jesus, has this show really been around since before 9/11?) that it has attempted to cover more than one team. That’s twice the personnel, with none of the intense football action! (More on that in a second)
We’re going to do this in the form of a “depth chart,” but keep in mind that this was only the first episode and apparently these guys won’t even get to put on the pads until week three (KILL ME), so a lot of these “positions” are only going to be one “player” deep. (Whatever, man, you get it.)
ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
Starter: Is there even going to be a season this year?
This year’s training camp, which will involve zero preseason games (probably good for anyone who can’t help but watch terrible preseason games and terrible for Hard Knocks watchability), mostly involved walking through plays in between seminars about COVID safety (drink every time a coach says “You guys call me out if I’m not doing a good job too!”). The quarterbacks took some snaps, and threw to… uh… some butterfly nets? I guess throwing to actual receivers was against protocol? But snapping the ball from center to quarterback was still okay? Man, this is going to be worse than I thought. The NFL can’t have preseason games, but we may have needed a preseason episode of Hard Knocks just to lay out all the rules.
Second: Where do all those tests come from?
They’re COVID testing these guys every day? I guess the test shortage is over, huh? Also, did anyone else notice that they were using the not-as-accurate just-swab-around-the-nostril test, and not the jam-the-q-tip-all-the-way-through-the-nasal-cavity-to-where-the-cocaine-drips test? And the players were still being babies about it.
That’s Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward Jr., by the way. Come on, Casey, you regularly smash your head into 300-pound men running full speed, a q-tip half an inch into your nostril is the least of your worries.
Third: Is this season actually going to suck ass?
See above. Spending the first 300 words of this post talking about COVID is really dampening my whole sports-as-an-escape-from-reality vibe. Honestly, could one thing this year not be horribly depressing? I just thank God HBO doesn’t have commercials, because if I had to watch some brand or celebrity tell me how they understand how hard this pandemic can be during breaks from the Hard Knocks cast not playing football I might actually stick a shotgun in my mouth.
MOST VALUABLE CANINE
Starter: Sean McVay’s dog Callie.
Callie is obviously an extremely good girl, and her pool basketball scene with Sean McVay turned out to be the most exciting sports action we saw the entire episode.
We can only hope more players are drafted to fill this position. Cassie seems like a lock but she could use some competition to bring out her best.
Starter: Sean McVay and his wife, Veronika.
Man, if you thought COVID safety seminars were boring, just watch the Kardashians-lite back and forths between Sean and Veronika McVay. Jesus, these guys make a job interview seem relaxed and candid. I really hope this scene was just a way to introduce the dog.
Second: Every Zoom chat.
I don’t want to drag the players or the show too hard for this, but I think at this stage of quarantine we can all agree that Zoom chats are terrible. And the only thing worse than having to do your own Zoom chats is watching someone else’s.
Starter: Melvin Ingram III’s high-powered tricycle
Watching Chargers defensive end Melvin Ingram III show up to camp in a high-speed motortrike almost felt like old times. I love that you can simply jet ski through the streets nowadays.
The players aren’t even wearing pads yet. Come on, Hard Knocks, the least you could do is give us more unorthodox vehicle footage. I know it’s out there.
LOVABLE UNDERDOG TRYING TO MAKE GOOD
Starter: Dont’e Deayon
This requisite “lovable player on the bubble” slot felt pretty forced this time around, and Dont’e Deayon desperately trying (and failing) to get Aaron Donald to acknowledge him somehow was almost as tragic as watching the quarterbacks throw balls to nets instead of people. He also seemed more “manic” than “lovable” per se, but dammit I need an underdog to root for and Dont’e Deayon is who the producers have given me. I will spend the next four episodes rooting for him because I am a hopeless shill.
JAMES HARRISON MEMORIAL AWARD FOR TERRIFYING JACKEDNESS
Starter: Aaron Donald
Eh, he’s pretty buff, I guess.
LEAST VALUABLE MONTAGE
Starter: The “sanitizing” sequence.
Not that we didn’t know this would be coming, but the staff-spraying-hand-sanitizer montage set to Outkast’s “So Fresh, So Clean” was exactly as groan-worthy as you’d imagine. Which isn’t necessarily a knock on the Hard Knocks production crew, I realize they’re trying to make a football show without any actual football footage here. So keep spraying down those benches and we’ll all pretend everything doesn’t suck.