Houston Texans "Hard Knocks," Episode 1 Review
Photo by Michael Starghill
“I called my parents and I asked them not to watch it…especially my mother. She’s Irish Catholic, and she goes to Mass, I think, every day. She’s not going to be very happy with me.” — Texans head coach Bill O'Brien discussing "Hard Knocks"
Well, I don't know Bill O'Brien's mom, but if salty language is not really her thing, she may want to watch the daytime-edited version of this season's Hard Knocks on HBO, if she plans on watching it at all. Mrs. O'Brien's baby boy, as it turns out, has learned some new words in his time. Indeed, Bill O'Brien has f-bombs and he's not afraid to use them!
This was one of a few dozen things that we learned about our hometown team in last night's season premiere of the award-winning Hard Knocks. The show is always a fantastic window into what life is like inside an NFL facility and in the home lives of some pretty prominent players, but having your team on the show…well, this is a whole new level of intrigue. Of course, here in Houston we loved it, because this is our team, but I have to believe that compared to subject teams from the past few seasons, particularly bland teams like the Dolphins and Falcons, the Texans showed well to the rest of the country,
Let's lay out a few random stream-of-consciousness thoughts on last night's episode:
1. I told my buddy John Harris (Texans sideline reporter and football expert extraordinaire) last season that O'Brien will be a star doing television someday, if he so chooses. His honesty, his energy, his intelligence, all are things that would make him a great broadcaster. After the first episode of this Hard Knocks season, I'm more convinced than ever that would be the case, if O'Brien went into TV. O'Brien was incredible last night, openly showing his disgust with how the rest of the league disrespects the Texans, and doing so with a barrage of f-bombs that would make Redd Foxx blush. My biggest takeaway on O'Brien after one episode is this — it's easy to see why free agents like Kareem Jackson, Derek Newton and Vince Wilfork would want to stay/come here to play for him. He inspires.
2. Reportedly, the producers of Hard Knocks obtain 350 hours of footage to whittle it down to the one-hour show we see every Tuesday, so I say that merely to point out that such a minuscule amount of tape that we see versus the amount that is actually shot means you can tell almost any story you want to. That being said, the impression on the O'Brien-Rick Smith dynamic I was left with after the first episode was that this is O'Brien's show, and Smith is pretty much along for the ride. It started in the first minute of the show when O'Brien is pep talking the staff — "All 90 of these guys are guys I wanted!" Guys, O'BRIEN wanted. Also, the Reshard Cliett conversation between the two, where Smith was nodding along with O'Brien's assessment of the rookie after he tore his ACL, was a telling sliver, I thought. It will be interesting to see how and to what extent Rick Smith is involved when it comes time to make cuts, both in evaluation and in informing the players of the team's decisions.
3. One more O'Brien follow-up — I can't believe that the owner who thought it was acceptable to keep Gary Kubiak for eight seasons is the same one who hired Bill O'Brien. I mean, can you picture more opposite personalities and social styles than O'Brien and Kubiak? I like to see it as proof that even elite businesspeople like Bob McNair, who've reached the pinnacle of the corporate world, continue to evolve and improve at their jobs over time like the rest of us frontline folks try to do.
4. Watching Arian Foster run early in the episode, before he tore his groin (O'Brien's reaction to hearing that news was hard to watch, by the way), is pretty damn depressing if you're a Texans fan. He just looks different from the average back. He runs different, he runs smoother, he looks elite. I hope to see more of him as this HK season rolls on, and was disappointed that we didn't see him at all after the first ten minutes or so.
5. J.J. Watt flips a 1,000-pound tire over with his bare hands 65 times in one workout. I fully expect him to be hula-hooping with this tire by the season finale in four weeks.
5a. One quick exercise to illustrate how ridiculous J.J. Watt is — pick your five closest friends. Okay, now ask yourself, "What's the smallest number of people from that group that could flip that half-ton tire ONCE? Let alone 65 times!" I'm 46 years old. I don't think I could find a single permutation of five among my closest friends who could budge that tire without a herniated disk in the group.
6. If you're looking for supporting HK stars on the coaching staff, here are three — linebackers coach Mike Vrabel (Ted Johnson predicted this, and was spot on), defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel (his blistering assessment of how shitty the defense looked was the opposite of every "cool uncle" label I've ever affixed to Crennel) and assistant strength coach Sean Hayes (performed a "Macho Man" Randy Savage impersonation that brought down the house).
7. Really hard to watch the glowing appraisal the coaching staff was giving sixth-round pick Reshard Cliett's early camp performance, only because we all know how that ends, with Cliett tearing his ACL. It was like watching Adrianna get into the car with Silvio in Season 5 of The Sopranos. We all know what's coming, just get it over with, please.
8. Um, how did I not know that there are like a quarter million bats living underneath some overpass on Waugh Drive? And why are people visiting this place?
9. If we are gleaning anything — ANYTHING AT ALL — from the coverage the QBs are getting in Hard Knocks, Hoyer seems to be getting slightly more air time, and slightly more "starter's treatment," but it's very slight. The only real spotlight on Mallett was when he made a throw that O'Brien said was really fucking stupid. (Not sure if those were O'Brien's exact words, but I'm fairly confident he said "fuck" when describing it, mostly because O'Brien says "fuck" when he describes pretty much everything on the show. Have I mentioned I love Bill O'Brien?)
10. The whole scene where the McNairs and Rick Smith visit the Virginia governor's mansion had a weird vibe to it, like they were showing the clear distinction between the aristocrats and the proletariat. It was like a modern-day Game of Thrones scene where the governor's mansion was the Khaleesi's castle, where they all sipped wine and determined policy, and training camp was the fighting pits in Meereen. Kind of an awkward scene that was made 100 times more awkward by Daniel Snyder's presence and decision to speak.
11. The practices against the Redskins were interesting to watch, mostly because we got to see up close what a bitch made chump Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall is. It was pretty nice watching Hopkins juke Hall into a leg injury of some sort and then drop this gem:
12. In the end, we got an up-close view of the three brawls that broke out within a matter of about five minutes this past Saturday, all of which led to the greatest closing line to an episode in the history of HBO. From Texans CB Johnathan Joseph:
For the first high school senior in the Houston area to show me proof, I will buy you a steak dinner if you make "Let's get the fuck outta Richmond" your high school yearbook quote. Also, I would watch a Bosom Buddies remake starring Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph, and so would you.
13. End credits show the Watt brothers playing corn hole with their mom in the backyard on a beautiful Wisconsin evening. If we take out our Watt-to-Gronk conversion chart, the Gronkian equivalent of this Wattian scene is Gronk and his three brothers doing body shots off the small of a stripper's back with their old man at the Wynn. Same "we do stuff as a family" dynamic. Just different stuff. Very different.
14. We are tracking the salty language of Hard Knocks with an online swear jar, but just know the final count on f-bombs is giving us a two-man race, with O'Brien leading Mike Vrabel 14-11, and the next closest player/coach has two. This is a two-man race right now for king of the curse words. Maybe the most surprising curse word was a "shit" and "fuck" from J.J. Watt. THAT was jarring.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast. Also, listen to "Hard Knocks" NFL Films Supervising Producer Ken Rodgers on SportsRadio 610 at 5:15 p.m. today to discuss Episode 1 of the series.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.