The Hard Knocks Power Rankings return for the season finale, in which Geno gets rich, players read Twitter, and Pacman reviews Rookie of the Year.
(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: James Harrison crushes dreams and forearms, Margus Hunt eats straight-up growth hormone, and Marvin Lewis gives us a new term for dudes whose wives are way too hot for them.
The HBO cameras have captured so much about this young, talented Bengals squad, introducing us to a group of human beings that we previously knew as nothing more than refined barbarians in numbered shirts and striped helmets. Some of this information was obvious—AJ Green is good at catching footballs, coaches like to curse, James Harrison is a bloodthirsty killing machine. Some of this information was revelatory—Gio Bernard drives his girlfriend’s mom’s minivan, Estonia is NOT England, James Harrison is a bloodthirsty killing machine. But with all of it, we were able to peer beyond the field and know these people as humans. It was entertaining. It was touching. It was shocking. It was fun. Now, it’s time to watch them play.
Also, a few people have mentioned that they enjoy the weekly power rankings (one of whom may or may not be my dad), so the plan is to keep this trope going throughout the season with weekly Bengals Power Rankings. I’m not sure exactly how it will work or change, but it will continue, and the world is a better place for that. Or at the very least, not a worse place. So thanks again to Mark Lisanti, whose Mad Men Power Rankings spawned this idea. Mark, your genius is much appreciated.
“Ok…here we go forward together.” —Mike Brown, talking to Geno Atkins while being both weird and prescient.
1. Geno Atkins
25 sitting on 55 mil. Geno didn’t have a particularly interesting or entertaining episode. In fact, he was essentially absent for the first 55 minutes or so, save for a tongue-lashing by Mike Zimmer that was employed to demonstrate the egalitarian nature of Zim’s profanity-laced diatribes. But when the league’s best defensive tackle was shown inking his 5-year, $55 million extension at the end of the episode, it was the perfect example of what this show sets out to do—give an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at an NFL franchise. Sure, every Bengals fan and most football fans had known about the deal for more than 24 hours by the time the episode aired. But that doesn’t change what the signing represents—a franchise, that has long been ridiculed and scoffed at, in the midst of reinventing itself. These are not the Bungles of old. Hard Knocks showed that to the rest of the world. Geno’s extension personified that. Mike Brown’s uncomfortable 30-second conversation served as a signpost of where the team was and where it still needs to go. It was like an ending montage all collapsed into one brief, lucrative moment. Here we go forward together.
2. James Harrison
He was absent, hidden, a nonfactor. And then the end credits role, and there he is, terrorizing yet again, tripping over things in the locker room while walking backwards, just to prove a point. Talking business, and requesting to do so untelevised, so long as you want to keep that camera, punk. It was like one of those bonus scenes at the end of a superhero movie. He is what’s coming. He is what keeps you waiting in fear, excitement, and anxious anticipation. He is the danger.
3. Roster cuts
It was the “Chekhov’s 53-man roster” hanging over this entire episode. For every AJ Green and Geno Atkins there is a John Conner and Jayson DiManche, someone battling for a locker, a spot on the team, the uncertainty gnawing at their gut like a perpetual tapeworm. It is the inevitable unhappy ending to every training camp. In the beginning, everyone has Super Bowl aspirations. By the end, only 53 will be around to pursue them.
4. Jayson DiManche
He went from an undrafted rookie—cruising around in his beat-up, purple Honda Civic, circa…I don’t know…‘98?—to an NFL player, calling his mom while choking back tears and screaming into the white down comforter of his hotel bed. The man’s not a linebacker. He’s an astronaut.
Apparently, NFL players get their news the same way everyone else does.
6. Duke Tobin
The silent assassin, lurking in the shadows, binoculars slung around his neck. He holds the futures and failure of each player in his hands. His soft-spoken, kind words mask the piercing, all-seeing eyes. Don’t bother trying to recover from that missed tackle or poor block or blown coverage. Tobin saw it coming three plays ago. You’re going to have to come down and meet with Coach Lewis. Bring your iPad.
7. Bengals players as movie critics
Factually inaccurate movie critics. Pacman Jones thinks Henry Rowengartner from Rookie of the Year was named Dane Sanzenbacher. (That is a great movie though. Long live Chet Steadman.) Margus Hunt, again adopting the roll of Ivan Drago, mixes up his Rocky IV training references. First, he claims he grew up like Drago, hooked up to crazy machines. Then he says he trained by carrying logs. IT CAN’T BE BOTH, MARGUS.
8. Dane Sanzenbacher
While we’re on the subject, what percentage of his contract does Dane have to pay Jon Gruden? SANZENBACHERRRRRR.
9 & 10. Cursing and Monogamy!
Two subjects that rose fast, climbed faster, then fell faster still. A few of the coaches must have received calls from their mommies last week, as the profanity count was waaaaaayyyy down in this episode compared to the past two. Zimmer was actually saying complete sentences without using the F-word. It was unsettling. As for monogamy!, it seems to have crested far too soon. Strong combine numbers, a good camp, but by the end of the run, it was parked on the bench next to Aaron Maybin and his paint brushes. We did get a trip to the baby doctor with Domata “I only shoot out boys” Peko and the family (and good for the Pekos for letting us be there for a very real, touching, heartfelt moment), but other than that? Nothing. No Jordan Dalton, no Taylor Mays writing love poems, no AJ Green and his fiancé trying to figure out the TiVo, no Pacman Jones running out of gas, no Gio Bernard cruising the Queen City in the Honda Odyssey with lady and lady’s mother along for the ride. We never even got to see Vontaze Burfict’s main female practice visitor, and the world is a lesser place for it, believe you me. I guess the monogamy! honeymoon only lasted four episodes.
Honorable Mention: Larry Black’s scooter, DeQuin Evans’s PEDs, the speakerphone function (great invention for TV), Orson Charles’s “Coach Richt is my dawg” T-shirt, Terrence Stephens singing John Mayer (but thankfully not “Your Body is a Wonderland”), awkward coordinator high-fives, special teams coach Darrin Simmons using the phrase “nut-cutting time” (whatever the hell that means).