I had read that the first episode of “Hard Knocks: Training Camp With The New York Jets” was boring. After catching up to it Thursday night, I agree … to a degree.
The formula of “Hard Knocks,” which has been around on HBO (now Max for some moronic corporate reason) since the Baltimore Ravens were featured before the 2001 season, is familiar, and I’ll agree with stale if you want to go that far.
Beyond a lovely scene from cornerback Sauce Gardner’s college graduation, the inspiration for secondary story lines — we’ll get to the main one in a minute — was so lacking in the first episode that a convoluted subplot about actor and “Hard Knocks” voiceover artist Liev Schreiber’s visit to camp (via helicopter, no less) got a decent amount of real estate.
And yet I desperately wish the show would continue with the Jets through the entire season, rather than for just five episodes during preseason. The regular season, when the best-laid plans go haywire, is when this team is going to get interesting, and in chaotic ways that the Jets players and coaches aren’t anticipating now during this honeymoon phase with a certain “enlightened” new quarterback.
Sometime this season, I promise you, that first episode, and this show’s season as a whole, will be looked back on with amusement. Because Aaron Rodgers, the Jets’ greatest hope at quarterback since Joe Namath limped off to Los Angeles, is desperately trying to act like a normal human. Such a gambit will inevitably be proven a charade long before this season’s schedule is complete.
I’m not saying the Jets will go the way of the Kyrie Irving Nets this year. I’m just saying it won’t surprise me if Rodgers shows up at Gillette Stadium in Week 18 waving incense everywhere.
The dynamic between the 39-year-old Rodgers, who won four Most Valuable Player awards and a Super Bowl in 18 seasons with the Packers, and his new team is just weird. Some of his teammates are star-struck. Receiver Mecole Hardman, who spent the first four seasons of his career sharing a huddle with a true unicorn in Patrick Mahomes, gleefully tells Rodgers he’s been watching him his whole life. Rodgers smiles, but wears a look like he wants to yell, “Cut! Cut!” at the cameraman.
Then there’s Jeff Ulbrich. The Jets’ defensive coordinator, who comes across as Dan Campbell without the charm, shows his defense a clip from practice and says, “I don’t know if there’s any other human on earth that can make that [expletive] throw. He’s our quarterback. He’s ours. He ours. [Expletive] awesome, man.” Watching Zach Wilson last year is bound to make a coach prone to hyperbole about the new guy, I suppose.
Rodgers, meanwhile, turns on his wannabe “Jeopardy”-host charm, but he’s not a good enough actor to prevent it from feeling performative. The Jets had to be nudged by the league into appearing on “Hard Knocks,’’ but Rodgers acts as if it’s his favorite thing in the world, and he is hyper-aware of the cameras. “Going to give you some good [expletive] today,’’ he says to a cameraman as he walks on to the field.
Rodgers tries to do so. He’s vocal and engaging. But not even Schreiber, who was uncanny as former Globe editor Marty Baron in “Spotlight,’’ can bring authenticity out of Rodgers. Rodgers refers to Schreiber as the “voice of God,’’ but their conversation on the sideline during practice is stilted and awkward. Schreiber has the self-awareness to note that he’s “just ripping off John Facenda,’’ referencing the iconic voice of NFL Films’s heyday.
“Hard Knocks” has never been reminiscent of the best of NFL Films. It’s fun but formulaic, a controlled environment portrayed as the unvarnished truth. But this year’s edition will have staying power. It will be an artifact from when Aaron Rodgers put his best face forward, and all was right for a moment for the New York Jets.
G League documentary recommended
Highly recommend “Destination NBA: A G League Odyssey,” a documentary produced by Religion of Sports and Spotify’s The Ringer currently available on Amazon Prime. The doc followed a small but diverse selection of players in the developmental basketball league last season. Among those featured are No. 3 overall pick Scoot Henderson and Denzel Valentine, an NBA veteran who spent last season with the Maine Celtics … Congratulations to former Globe NBA writer Marc Spears, who was the recipient of the Curt Gowdy Print Media Award during the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame’s induction ceremonies this weekend. The award is presented annually to members of the media whose efforts have made a significant contribution to the game of basketball. Spears, now with ESPN’s Andscape, was an excellent teammate during his time at the Globe. I remember him sending out occasional e-mail blasts — a must-read story he saw, or maybe a good joke — and his cc’d list of recipients would include roughly two-thirds of the NBA. He knows everyone, and everyone knows and likes him.