When we normally think of HBO, we think drama or comedy and excelling in those areas. One area HBO has been doing amazing programming has been its Sports programs. It was a testament to how good HBO sports is was when Mark Wahlberg used the HBO boxing crew to film scenes for his movie “The Fighter”. It has produced some truly great sports documentaries including one of my personal favorites the “When It Was A Game” series. HBO also created one of the first investigative sports news programs with “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel”. The Hard Knocks series is now on season 7, skipping last year due to the lockout. It was a great loss and thank god its back.
This year Hard Knocks has decided to team up with the Miami Dolphins. A team seemingly going through a bit of rebuilding phase. Yes, if they had followed the Jets circus it would have been entertaining but would have lacked one thing…the focus on football. We don’t need the Tebow, Sanchez, Rex Ryan love triangle muddling up what makes Hard Knocks great. Hard Knocks does so many things well like the camera shots, slow motion editing, and inside access but what makes it truly great is the struggle of each and every player. 90 players show up to camp, every single one of them with the hope they will be playing in the NFL come season start. Unfortunately, only 53 will make it. Each player has a storyline whether its the undrafted rookie praying to make the roster, the number 1 draft pick trying to live up to potential, or the veteran trying to squeeze out another productive year. We quickly understand why only 1500 men can play this game of football at this level.
Now on to the episode:
Episode 4 opens with the Dolphins preparing for the pivotal game 3 of the preseason. The third game of the preseason is always the most important because the starters usually play the entire first half. Eric Steinbach is a 10 year veteran who was invited by the Dolphins to camp to try and eek out one more year. Steinbach is not sure his body can hold together for one more year much less camp. HBO shows scene after scene of him getting his knees taped up, ice baths, etc. Its like Nick Nolte’s character in North Dallas Forty pushing his body as it quickly falls apart. Unlike Brett Favre, Steinbach realizes from watching tape that he no longer possesses the ability to perform at a high level and retires. Old warriors never die, they just limp away.
Usually once an episode there is some comic relief. This time provided by number 1 draft pick and newly named starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill. For some reason this guy has no idea what teams are in which divisions. Matt Moore sits there astonished this guy doesn’t know the divisions. He can only name 2 of the 4 teams in the NFC North. Tannehill claims he never really followed professional football. Is this kid really this dumb? And if you were just about to embark on a NFL career wouldn’t you take the time to learn the teams?
We also get a bit of background on the Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland. Comes from a football family and spent his early teens with the Chicago Bears from 1981-88. Jeff Ireland plays a big role in this episode. First he receives a text from Indianapolis Colts GM Jim Irsay who is looking at a trade for CB Vontae Davis. It is always interesting to see how easily these deals go down. There is some bickering back and forth over compensation meaning draft picks but it only takes one phone call for a player’s life to change totally. Davis seems to take it in stride only wanting to call his grandmother. At least it wasn’t as awkward a scene as the Chad Johnson release.
Jeff Ireland then takes on what has to be the worst part of the job. Actually its probably one of the worst jobs in the world. The Dolphins must cut the roster from 90 to 75 by Monday. As he sits down with each player and explains to them that their dream of playing in the NFL this year is over, it almost hurts the viewer as much as the player. One player stares off into the distance almost like he didn’t hear what Ireland just said, and another questions Ireland stating “You didn’t give me a shot.” Truly tough to watch. Spend your life and a grueling summer trying to make the roster only to be cut after not playing a down in the previous preseason game.
Another great aspect of Hard Knocks is we usually find one or two players to root for. Some long shot or great story to follow. Someone whose struggle to make the team will only occur with great hidden talent and heart. This year it was tight end Les Brown. Les Brown is a 25 year old financial expert and former college basketball player. He peeked the Dolphins coaches interest after running a 4.5sec 40 yard dash. Not usually speed you see from a tight end but he does lack the size of a tight end. You find yourself really rooting for guys like this because its like if you yourself stepped on to the field to compete, the everday joe. Alas his size didn’t match his heart and made his inability to block anyone very evident. He ended up in the first round of cuts. During his conversation with the tight ends coach, he gets very emotional. Tough to watch big men weep but only goes to prove how hard it is to make it. So if you feel yourself on Sunday saying “Man, I could have caught that! or I could have ran through that hole!” remember…no, you really couldn’t.
Jason is a 35 year old defense contractor in Wash DC. Husband and recently new father. Reader, writer. Sports obsessed. Sopranos got him hooked on HBO and never looked back. Game of Thrones runs his life right now. Follow him on Twitter and check out his site as well!