The Hard Knocks Power Rankings are back for the penultimate Episode 4, in which Jay Gruden overflows the swear jar, the Peko family eats corned beef, and Margus Hunt eats plutonium.
(And if you’re new to the scene, here is a reminder of how the Power Rankings work, and whose brilliant idea I ripped off.)
Last week, in case you missed it: Aaron Maybin is a work of art, James Harrison shows some skin, and Andy Dalton gets rowdy to some Christian rock.
“We’re acting like our shit don’t stink. It f@#king stinks.” —Jay Gruden
1. James HarrisonJames watched, with much anticipation and restrained glee, as two of his fellow linebackers squared off in an arm wrestling match—though he didn’t know they were linebackers at the time. Later that day, one of the coaches informed him (after first asking Mr. Harrison if there was anything else he needed before he went home to his family for the evening), that the two young men were a pair of undrafted youngsters by the names of Jordan Campbell and JK Schaffer, and were not, in fact, frightened equipment boys as James had assumed. James was beginning to realize more and more that most of the people he assumed were frightened equipment boys were actually coaches and fellow players, despite all of their actions suggesting otherwise. In any event, the arm wrestling match was entertaining for James in the same way a Pop Warner football game is entertaining, or a middle school talent show is entertaining, or a 6-year-old girl’s ballet recital is entertaining. Those frightened equipment boys were just trying so hard, it stirred a warm feeling inside his chest. Is this what joy feels like? He had never experienced this before. It was tough to explain. His body was reacting strangely as well, with the corners of his mouth involuntary stretching upwards, toward the heavens, exposing his teeth, but not in the usual menacing fashion. Smiling. He had heard about this before, even caught glimpses of others partaking in the action, though never when looking directly at him—not that people made a habit of looking directly at him anyways. Suddenly, the equipment boy/linebacker named Jordan won the arm wrestling match. What an uplifting event! James even felt compelled to give him an appreciative tap on the back, a quick thank you for conjuring this act of “smiling.” Maybe he would terrorize this Jordan character a little less than normal today as a sign of gratitude. But as the group returned to their seats around the table, the vibe began to change. The Jordan character was less frightened than usual, seemingly filled with pride from his victory over his fellow equipment boy. He was boastful, kissing his biceps, inviting the rest of the group to the “gun show.” The others in the room seemed to enjoy this, but not James. Why was this young man no longer terrified? Why were all of them no longer frightened? Then, it happened. The young equipment boy they call Jordan pointed to James, corners of his mouth now stretching upward, challenging him to a match. James was confounded. Why would this youngster even suggest such a futile duel? What self-destructive mission was he on? No matter. The next few moments were a blur. James vaguely remembers rising from his chair, circling the room, and placing his arm on the table. He can hazily recall the one they call Jordan placing a hand in his own. In an instant, Jordan’s forearm was flat against the table. James gripped tighter still, preparing to yank the arm clear from the attached body. But it wasn’t necessary. The fear was back. He could feel it in the bones, see it in his face, smell it in the air around him. They had all forgotten, but they remember now—James is fear. There are no more smiles from the equipment boy, no more prideful exclamations. He can keep his limb. For today, at least.
2. Marvin LewisThe next time I see a married man whose wife is way too good looking for him, I will undoubtedly say, “That dude outkicked his coverage.” Thank you, Coach Lewis.
3. CursingThe expletives wrangled “highest ceiling” status from monogamy! in this week’s power rankings battle of potential. The profanities were flowing like champagne on New Year’s Eve, thanks in large part to…
4. Jay GrudenAside from challenging Zimmer for the F-bomb Throne, as well as his spot-on and much needed comment on the odor of the team’s collective fecal matter, Gruden also gave us the “stereotypical football coach speech” of this Hard Knocks season, transcribed here by Joe Reedy of The Cincinnati Enquirer. No comment yet from Disney on whether “Mickey Mouse horseshit” is a trademarked phrase.
5. Monogamy!Corned beef breakfast, hair brushing, and morning rides to school with the Pekos. Wrestling, quiet football time, and onesie pajamas with the Whitworths. Nostalgia, family photos, and “Come on babe!” cheers with the Daltons. All you need is love. Love. Love is all you need. (But seriously, how many friggin’ kids does Andrew Whitworth have???)
6. Margus HuntBoom Herron: “What kind of food do y’all eat where you’re from?”Hunt: “Plutonium.”Herron, confused: “But like…what kind of food is it?”Hunt: “Just straight up growth hormone.”Fin.
7. Life CoachesIt’s one of the more interesting aspects of professional football that Hard Knocks allows us to peer behind the curtain and see. When they aren’t busy squawking expletives, these coaches truly are teachers and father figures for the players as much as they are football instructors. We often forget—because they are massive and well-compensated human beings—that most of the roster is made up of kids in their early-to-mid 20s. For many of them, football is the only thing they know. True, the coaches are teaching them about zone coverages and line stunts and blitz pickups, but they also have to teach them how to be men, how to be well-rounded people. You get to see that when Jay Hayes is chatting with his defensive lineman after the game, resting his arms on their shoulders as they stand in a circle, reminding them to thank the assistant coach that has been helping them out for the past week. You see it with Mike Zimmer talking with Devon Still, asking him about his life goals and all the things he wants to achieve. You see it with Marvin Lewis when he has to cut a player, telling them to keep their head up, keep working hard, keep going after opportunities. Being a football coach, even in the NFL, is much more than Xs and Os and nickel defenses and shotgun snaps. It’s cool that Hard Knocks allows us to see that.
8. AJ “The Merchandise” GreenHe is beauty. It’s like watching a masterpiece being created, right before your very eyes.
9. Taylor Mays blown coverageIf he makes the team, you better get used to it.
10. DeQuin EvansStraight Outta Compton.
Honorable Mention: Springsboro High School football, Jayson DiManche freestyling, the hats and coffee cups piled on Zim’s desk, the dead animals on display in Zim’s house, Andy Dalton’s rubber wedding ring, Andy Dalton’s wife’s highlighter-orange tank top.
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