Recap: Hard Knocks, Episode 5

Last night was the first night of the 2013 NFL season, and on Tuesday, the final episode of Hard Knocks aired, almost as if nature had intended it that way.

Many Bengals fans were feeling a twinge of discomforting unfamiliarity at the volumes of national writers picking the team for a Super Bowl run or the peculiar sensation of efficient preseason victories. How reassuring then, to be brought back to earth by a panicked Jay Gruden watching his franchise QB running a drill before yelling in horror: “What the #$%^ are you doing?! Why would you do that!?”

Ah, the Bengals are back, baby!

And in case you thought it was just the offense, the show quickly cut to Marvin Lewis asking LB Vontaze Burfict some—frankly fairly easy—questions that, one hopes, Burfict thought were rhetorical. Fortunately Marv remained unperturbed by the silent blank stare and answered things like “It’s easy isn’t it?” and “We’re going to do it better, aren’t we?” himself. To be honest, even if you’re a man who professionally hits other large men with his head, those should be gimmes.

It wasn’t even just the players. HBO strangely showing what appeared to be the hands of an old lady unpacking her heroine paraphernalia, though it actually turned out to be a sewing kit. To be fair, I’ve been watching a lot of Breaking Bad recently.

Actually this old lady turned out to have a starring role. Because, apparently, the Bengals are so frugal, that when they cut a player they don’t just throw his shirt out or give it to a homeless child. Nope, they pay some old biddy minimum wage (I’m guessing…) to unstitch the player’s name from the back of the jersey. What, so they can re-use it?! The Bengals are worth $900 trillion—they can’t afford new jerseys for players?

Being cut was, of course, the final show’s theme, admittedly a somewhat anti-climactic one: The show aired Tuesday night and the cuts were made on Saturday. Josh Johnson beat out John Skelton for the backup QB role. Even though Skelton actually had a slightly better game, HBO highlighted Skelton screwing up the play clock and Johnson throwing a TD—almost as if HBO knew who won the battle and then edited it afterwards to make themselves look more prescient…

The cuts were a fitting way to end the series: highlights included the bafflement of players being released by Dobby The House Elf (Duke Tobin, in reality), and the bafflement of viewers as Marvin Lewis wandered in to cut Skelton while pulling on his shirt. Why this occurred was never explained. Was his own office surprisingly cold to him? Had he just had a massage prior to releasing Skelton? Does Marv usually just hang out in his office shirtless? Sadly, we’ll never know.

Many of the series’ stories were wrapped up for better or for worse. ‘Dobby’ Tobin released DT Terrence Stephens, telling him he has what it takes for successful NFL career. This was slightly puzzling as we’d only really ever seen him sing and get pushed over, but a kind word never hurts, I suppose. LB Bruce Taylor dealt with release by planning to play for the Reds, and DeQuin Evans saved everyone a tear or two by getting an 8-game drug suspension before he could be cut.

In the end though, as the final scenes made clear, this is in fact only the beginning. Time to start the season. Time, as Marvin Lewis put it so eloquently, to engage the three most important body parts for an NFL player: time “to put your hearts and souls and asses on the line.” I think he may have stolen that from Churchill (“I have nothing to offer except blood, sweat, tears and my ass”?) And, frankly, that’s something we can all take away and learn from. Isn’t that what TV is for?



James Harrison filmed the HBO crew filming him (how meta!), thus breaking the fourth wall for comedic effect. HBO didn’t care. James Harrison may have arms like Gaston from Beauty And The Beast, but he isn’t funny.  Please don’t tell him I said that.

Mike Zimmer teaching his son Adam to shoot a bow and arrow like a terrifying Robin Hood. I would cast Mike Zimmer in the Christopher Nolan version of Robin Hood where we see Robin growing up under the mentorship of a gruff, scary father figure who’s a demon archer. I would also watch that.

If you were surprised by Carlos Dunlap wearing flip-flops literally everywhere, don’t be. One Bengal, who will remain Jermaine Gresham, sometimes wears them to nightclubs (his own flip flops, I assume, not Dunlaps). Moral of the story? When you’re 6’5”-plus of solid, raw muscle as an NFL defensive end, you can wear what you want on your feet and you’re probably not going to get any hassle about it.

Speaking of being cheap, we saw Geno Atkins sign his new multimillion dollar contract ($22m in six months?!), which was great. Geno signed his name and then Katie Blackburn went off to make copies. That’s right, the Bengals Executive Vice President doesn’t have someone to do her photocopying.  The only other explanation is that Geno—who, remember, thought ‘flamboyant’ meant ‘able to float’ actually just signed his name to fund another stadium for Mike Brown and she was trying to get it away from him before someone noticed.

If Peter King can mention in his column every time a great niece twice remove gets a gold star from a teacher, why can’t I do a personal shout out? “No reason at all!” I hear you cry in your millions. So HUGE congratulations to Bengal fan, total angel and genuinely this column’s number one supporter Natalie Starvaggi on getting engaged to (likewise) Bengal fan and part-time JK Schaffer workout buddy Kyle Lang…wish you all the happiness in the world…congrats and Who Dey!

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