With a full understanding of the difficult situation HBO seems to be in with the Raiders on this season of Hard Knocks aside, the much anticipated second episode could be summed up in one statistic for me.
Run time spent on unseen footage of Antonio Brown talking about his shredded feet and cryogenic chamber accident that seemed to be concealed from the opener: two minutes and 37 seconds.
Run time spent on a breathless recap of Nathan Peterman’s first preseason start (including—multiple—slow-motion replays of him scrambling): three minutes, 48 seconds.
I’m not going to get on a high horse about ethics here, because the truth is that each season of Hard Knocks is an awkward slow dance with a new team and new executives, each of whom have their own unique slate of personnel people, coaches and players that they need to elevate, recast into a new light or simply hide from the cameras altogether. Most of the time, the network does a good job on a tight deadline turning around a mountain of tape. When it doesn’t hit home, it’s usually a team that is scared to embrace its warts, or overly-petrified of what trade secrets might get out. Some teams may not have a good understanding of their own players, and the power of the series as a marketing tool.
In some ways, that fear was justified last year in Cleveland when the Browns laid their massive rifts on the coaching staff bare for the world to see. It was obvious from the beginning that Hue Jackson was tiptoeing around a field of active landmines, though a doomed team or coach is doomed regardless. It’s just a matter of how long you’re hoping to delay the inevitable information from getting public.
What we learned last night is how much we still can’t see. Brief snippets of a conversation between Jon Gruden and the broadcast team, and an even more brief conversation between general manager Mike Mayock and the television partners, seem to indicate that they still see Brown on the field Week 1. Gruden’s press conference comments on the matters related to Brown’s helmet and feet were pretty much left to stand for themselves.
Beyond Brown, we’re left divided into two camps. On one hand, there is the group that is legitimately energized by Gruden’s essence and would probably watch the show if it was only the coach commenting on the heat of his morning coffee. Gruden has mastered the swaggering, tough-guy ball coach on stage in a way unseen since Ed O’Neill played Kevin O’Shea in Little Giants. I’m beginning to learn that this is whole aesthetic is a particular, unbreakable draw for a large portion of our country, and, in so many ways, it’s taught me more about the world than I’d ever imagined. Ball is life. Life is Ball.
Then, there is the other camp searching for a reason to tune in beyond the lukewarm draw of a historically milquetoast backup quarterback battle and whatever undrafted free agents might hang around until cut day.
Without blowing through the organizational red light, Hard Knocks will survive because of the little moments. Like, on Tuesday, when poor Hunter Renfrow was forced to sing (and was kinda blown off by Derek Carr so he could go hi-five Jared Goff), or when rookie Johnathan Abram was watching other teammates cringe as he wondered aloud how similar he could be to Aaron Donald with a few more pounds on his frame.
But, if the weirdness of Brown’s situation continues to pulsate, there’s only so much longer the series can bury what is clearly sitting in plain sight.
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