Welcome to the Hard Knocks Power Rankings, where each week, we list the most interesting characters and storylines from the previous night’s episode of the HBO football reality series. (And yes, this is a rip-off of Grantland’s Mad Men Power Rankings. You know that old saying about imitation?)
Last week, on Hard Knocks: James Harrison terrifies humanity, players drill each other like it’s Oklahoma, everyone slow walks, Mike Zimmer drops F-bombs, the whole roster is wifed up.
To the rankings…
“I must break you.” —Margus Hunt as Ivan Drago.
1. Margus Hunt
The rookie defensive end, a second-round draft pick (and future action movie super villain) who hails from Estonia, is already bringing culture to the Bengals organization. He’s taught the team: Estonia is not England; Ivan Drago was a character in Rocky IV, not Rocky III; Estonians do not speak Finnish; there is an Estonian app you can get on your phone; you don’t have to (and probably shouldn’t) listen to Aaron Maybin when he offers advice; and again, no, Estonia is not England. But seriously, where the hell is Estonia???
2. Mike Zimmer
On Margus Hunt: “I like this f@#&er. He does some good stuff for not knowing a lot about football.” Unofficial Mike Zimmer Hard Knocks F-bomb count: 439.
3. James Harrison
After a first-place performance last week, Harrison did a better job of avoiding the cameras in Episode 2…until rookie defensive tackle Terrence Stephens grabbed the mic and belted out a sound reminiscent of K-Ci & JoJo, making me yearn for one last slow song at a middle school dance. Now obviously, this spot could easily go to future R&B demigod Terrence Stephens, whose pipes are as magical as the lure of the Sirens Song, but let’s be honest: The best part of Stephens crooning—other than the fact that it could drive even the most wretched of sinners to repent—was James Harrison’s reaction to all of it.
4. Bengals coaches being mean
When they aren’t listening to Terrence Stephens, the players are probably curled in the fetal position and just getting lost in some Taylor Swift. It’s like she’s speaking right into my soul, man.
Up five spots and climbing fast. Aside from another reference to Andy Dalton’s rubber wedding ring, we also got to spend time at the Whitworth Household with Andrew, the wife, and kids (including Tyler Eifert); we met Margus Hunt’s stealthy girlfriend who wears two-foot platform heels, probably so The Jolly Estonian Giant doesn’t accidently step on her when he’s heading into the kitchen to grab a snack; Rey Maualuga cracked a joke about linebacker JK Schaffer’s lady friend, who I believe JK mentioned was in Vegas, opening the door for a slew of questions about that; and Taylor Mays droned on and on about the love of his life, who I can only assume, after seeing the episode, got royally freaked out and sent Mays a text that read, “I really just need to focus on me right now. L8r.”
6. The Paul Brown Stadium Therapy Pool (feat. AJ Green)
That was some performance by that therapy pool. I was expecting AJ to turn to the camera and scream, “All of this can be yours for only four simple payments of $295.95 plus shipping and handling. And if you call now, we’ll knock off one of those four payments,” followed by a handful of his teammates explaining to the camera how that therapy pool has totally changed their lives.
7. Marvin Lewis
The 2013 Cincinnati Bengals: “We’re not here for the Girl Scout Jamboree.”
8. Geno Atkins swimming
He lulls you into a false sense of comfort and laughter with the doggy paddle…then destroys you.
9. Jay Gruden
He looks like a cartoon character, he talks in code, he can sling that Arena League pigskin like it’s nobody’s business, and—best of all—he’s not Jon.
10. The city of Cincinnati
She’s a beaut, ain’t she?
Honorable Mention: Jayson DiManche’s goggles, AJ Green’s red pants, everyone having an iPad, John Skelton’s bike, nerdy coordinators in the booth getting stoked after a big play.