Make no mistake, I have not liked having Hard Knocks covering the Houston Texans…I have LOVED having Hard Knocks covering the Houston Texans.
As a viewer, the "must-see" aspect has been raised several notches with our hometown team on the show instead of some scrub unit like the Atlanta Falcons. (I'm talking must-see raised from like Season 7 of The Office-level to Season 4 of Game of Thrones-level.) For a media member, though, it's brought my level of insight to a stratospheric level and has actually quasi-answered a few burning questions that many of us have had for a long time — questions like: "What exactly is Rick Smith's role in this whole thing?" "What is J.J. Watt's favorite meal?" and "What does Travis Labhart do in his spare time?"
These are all things I think about when my head hits the pillow every night, and when I'm done thinking about them, lately, I've been wondering, "How in the hell will I cover this team next season?" Seriously, what will we do without the F-bombs, without the insight, without actually being able to hear Ryan Mallett with our own ears say that the battery died on his phone and that's why he missed work?
I guess I'll worry more about that when the time comes (which is one week away, unfortunately). For now, let's look at this week's penultimate episode of this season's Hard Knocks:
1. The opening scene this week is Bill O'Brien giving a speech to his team, which is a great sign. Whenever the episode opens with O'Brien ripping into people, it's usually a harbinger of good things. Here, he is calling the Texans the "Almost Team," which is so freaking appropriate, and way more edgy than Gary Kubiak's nickname for them, "That's On Me."
2. After the opening credits, we begin the episode with the final scene of the previous episode, which immediately gives me a tingly sensation, likely because that's how every Rocky movie begins, and I love every single one of the Rocky movies. (Yes, even Rocky V, you assholes!) This time, we get to see Godsey sitting with both Mallett and Hoyer after O'Brien's QB choice is announced, and Mallett walks out without saying anything to anybody, and presumably starts gorilla smashing the windows on O'Brien's and Godsey's cars.
3. Rookie defensive tackle Christian Covington is asked to catch a punt. If he is able to field it cleanly, the team all gets to check out of the hotel and go home. I love this. As an aside, I would start a whole network based on big, huge fat guys doing tasks reserved for tiny fellas. Covington fields the punt cleanly, which means that we get to see Duane Brown, DeAndre Hopkins and Johnathan Joseph all return to their mansions and high-rises, and street free agent Kourtnei Brown return to his apartment, which may as well be Yoda's muddy shithole of a hovel compared to the Taj Mahals those other guys live in.
4. Bob McNair is speaking to the team with a "WIN THE DAY" slide up on the screen and acknowledges David Quessenberry by pronouncing his name "QUEEEEEEZEN-BERRY." We see strength coach Sean Hayes working with Quessenberry, and either Hayes is impersonating a quiet, subdued wrestler like Bob Backlund or that's his actual voice. I like Impersonation Hayes. Bring me my Impersonation Hayes, producers!
5. O'Brien gives a rousing speech to his team at practice, and the general gist of it is that they have been fucking up royally all day, so he's just going to let them all play ball with each other. I believe that "SHUT THE FUCK UP AND LET THESE GUYS PLAY!!" are his exact words. From there, we get a montage of slow-motion football plays with cheesy music. It's like one of those 80's-style montages where guys are sequentially doing random things, as in Revenge of the Nerds when they played "Put One Foot in Front of the Other" for like 90 seconds and then at the end, all of a sudden the entire fucking Tri-Lamb house was remodeled. Same exact thing.
6. Travis Labhart is miked up, and knowing that he's already been cut on Monday, I can see where this is going. Damn you, Hard Knocks producers, have you no soul?!? By the way, we see Lab fishing with his smoke-show wife on a little dock somewhere along the edge of a lake in Anytown, USA. His friend EZ Nwachukwu stops by and they end up swinging on some sort of rope swing into the lake, an activity that requires EZ to wear a life vest (which would've no doubt been used in a cornball line by the narrator if Nwachukwu had been cut..."EZ is called into O'Brien's office, but not even a life vest can save his career now…").
7. We get our first taste of Charles James, the star of this season, about 15 minutes in, and I get the same feeling I get when the Game of Thrones writers would finally give us Tyrion's first scene like 20 minutes into the show. It was like, "YEAH, business just picked up, bitches…CHARLES JAMES IS HERE!" Charles James tells one of his teammates that if he has one shitty day he's pissed, and all I can think is, "Man, it's a good thing he's not Matt Schaub, he'd be pissed ALL THE GODDAMN TIME…" Also, for some reason, O'Brien calls James into his office, but it's not to cut him, it's to give him a pep talk and tell him to keep up the good work. HUGE swerve by O'Brien!
8. O'Brien asking Cushing to spell "opportunity" (he couldn't) led to J.J. Watt asking Vince Wilfork to spell "spaghetti" (he couldn't, which was weird since he had several spaghetti sauce stains on his jersey), and then J.J. asking Jon Simon to spell "spaghetti" (judging by the look on Simon's face, we should be happy Simon answered to his own name). Bottom line, this scene was a horrible look for anyone with a USC, Miami or Ohio State degree.
9. Charles James heads home and decides to play a marathon round of MADDEN 2016 with the MADDEN cover boy and his former teammate, Odell Beckham, who miraculously has Hard Knocks cameras in his home. What a coincidence! I like to think James is trying to win using a roster of 53 Charles Jameses that he spent a week creating, all of whom rate at 99 in everything.
10. We are along for a ride in Rick Smith's smooth whip, which is about how I pictured it, except I did expect him to have cardboard cutouts of Bob and Cal McNair riding shotgun and backseat, so I was mildly disappointed. It appears as though Rick is wheelin' and dealin' and he's doing it with Denver president John Elway. We are watching a real live Texans and Broncos trade, which is football's answer to watching elephants mate on the Nature Channel. (One tidbit we do learn — Rick Smith asked Elway if he needed any inside linebackers. Wonder who he was shopping. Hmmmm.)
11. Dammit, Hard Knocks, just when I'm having fun cracking jokes about Rick Smith making trades with the Broncos, you gotta bring David Quessenberry into O'Brien's office so that he can tell him that he won't be playing for the Texans in 2015. Although O'Brien insists that Quessenberry will be back playing in 2016, it doesn't seem to help Quessenberry's frame of mind. He's clearly rattled, which means I'm now clearly rattled, and the room gets dusty all over again. DAMMIT.
12. Now we go from a player who battled through cancer to get back into training camp to a player who literally let his phone battery die and missed practice last week. Yes, we finally get the "Ryan Mallett overslept" storyline as Big Tex sits down with Rick Smith (I'm guessing O'Brien was too disgusted to look at Mallett) and proceeds to explain how his phone died and that he has now taken the plunge of buying a second alarm clock. Mallett with the FULL ALARM CLOCK REDUNDANCY. That's a big step! The scene ends with Smith semi-chastising Mallett before giving him a "don't let it happen again" handshake. Really?!? I'm pretty sure if this were Patriots Hard Knocks, the next scene after Mallett swearing it wouldn't happen again would be McNally and Jastremski tossing a wrapped up corpse into the back of an SUV, followed by Belichick telling whoever is the third string QB that he was getting a bump up to second string. Here is where you allow it to sink in that Ryan Mallett will make more money these next two years than most of you will make in your lifetime. That guy…his phone died. That's why he didn't show up to his $3.5 million a year job.
13. Vince Wilfork in overalls….
….not much else to say here.
14. We are now into the New Orleans game, and O'Brien makes a comment to one of his assistants that 37 of the 53 players on the opening week roster will have less than four years of experience. Wow, for a guy who had no idea who was going to make the team when he was yelling at everyone at practice, he sure seems to have a clear idea as to who is going to make the team!
15. Rick Smith would love to be watching the game, but that damn Chris Clark trade isn't going to complete itself! When he can't hear John Elway on the other end of the phone because of crowd noise, he retreats to a room in the Superdome that looks eerily like the basement in Pulp Fiction. Smith completes the trade and asks for The Gimp to bring him the papers to sign. Obviously, The Gimp was sleeping, so instead Texans Senior Director of Communications Kevin Cooper brings the papers over to Smith for his signature. Smith signs the papers, and Cooper speeds off on Zed's chopper to deliver them to the league office.
16. Charles James's touchdown run from the running back position is highlighted, and we learn that he basically walked over to O'Brien, screamed "Hey OB!" and O'Brien put him in the game. James took it to the house from 73 yards out, but the touchdown was called back because of a hold. Didn't matter; James kept the ball. Afterwards, as they walked to the bus, he showed the ball to O'Brien, who promptly flipped him the middle finger. I think James is making this team.
17. Time for cuts. I can't even watch. This was more fun when we weren't emotionally invested in any of the players; now it's torture. O'Brien is brutally honest with every guy. Alan Bonner is told he has all the tools but needs to work harder at learning the playbook (which is amazing considering he's been injured for two years and presumably had plenty of time to learn it). Cody White is told he should be proud of how he returned from injury, but he just wasn't good enough.
18. If I ever get fired, I hope my employer brings in Bill O'Brien to break the news to me.
19. Oh man, Labhart time. I can't even bear to watch. O'Brien gives Labhart the "you would make a great coach" speech, which is football's version of "I think it's best we just be friends." Labhart walks out, and I'm left trying to convince people that he will still get 60 catches somewhere down the road.
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SHOW ME HOW
20. They roll the end credits while showing J.J. Watt and Vince Wilfork eating at Killen's BBQ in Pearland. No disrespect to Ronnie Killen, but Travis Labhart just got cut. We should be rolling a silent clock like the end of an episode of 24 when someone just got killed. A little respect for the Lab, please.
BONUS: Teaser for next week's episode shows Arian Foster! I get the same giddy feeling I get when we find out "Stone Cold" Steve Austin is returning to Monday Night RAW next week!
If you wanna see Arian Foster next week, gimme a HELL YEAH! ….. HELL YEAH!
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.