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Hard Knocks Recap, Episode 1: Please, No More Fullback Battles

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SB Nation New York's Steve Lepore files weekly recaps of the HBO series profiling the Jets training camp

Hello there, SBN'ers! I decided it would be fun to do a recap each week of HBO's "Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the New York Jets". I hope you enjoy it, because I intend to be funny and honest about this show. Plus, it's my audition to get on the AV Club or Television Without Pity. Don't tell Ed. Anyway, away we go!

We open on a mid-level shot of what looks like a seriously messed up New Meadowlands Stadium ... oh, that's just the remaining piece of the old place in front of the new joint. Points to anyone who caught the fabled Xanadu project in the furthest part of the background.

Rex Ryan (whom I will be referring to as "Rexy" or "Sexy Rexy" for the entire show, so take note) is running the open practice the Jets held earlier this summer, talking to his team. Let it be known that, though I am a Giants fan, I absolutely love Rex Ryan. He's slowly developing into football's Tommy Lasorda. I know that would be an easy spot to make our first Weight Watchers joke of the evening, but I'm a bit classier than that. Ryan tells the team to enjoy an upcoming vacation, and that "No matter what you're doin', it's better than my fuckin' vacation. I'm cruisin' the Baltic with my in-laws and shit." It's not TV. So we've established that sexy Rexy can swear. I'm not totally sure if I can, but I'm certain I'll do my best to transcribe. It's what the American people deserve, dammit. 

We cut to a really fancy house, where one Jet is setting his tie. Ah, the action of football. Meanwhile, in another room, a few Jets whom I can't name (I assume all three of them are Darrelle Revis, until HBO tells me differently) are waiting for the man one of them calls "Pretty Boy Floyd" to join them, with another remarking that he's "fixing his jheri curl." So, you know, Mark Sanchez. I'm not 100 percent sure, but if it isn't, I would be surprised.

Cut to somewhere in the New Jersey swamps (this looks like a construction site in somebody's backyard) where new Jet Antonio Cromartie is about to be tied to a tire and pull it. He's presumably aware that Revis is going to hold out and has decided to literally and figuratively carry the weight of the Jets' secondary on his shoulders. We get lots of riveting shots of tires in motion and Cromartie exclaiming "good Lord." Affirming that, you know, this is hard. I can transcribe players' inner monologues, too. 

More shots of different players: A woman holding a little baby in a TCU polo signifies that were about to meet new Jets running back Ladainian Tomlinson. An off-screen voice asks a presumably older child if he likes New York, to which he affirms. No one asked if he liked New Jersey yet. There's gonna' be a lot of New Jersey anger in these recaps, just so you know. Meanwhile, another Jet is talking about someone who is clearly very old. Finally, Hollywood! Mark Sanchez is walking in designer shades behind a man who looks like an Indian Jeremy Piven, who I now officially want the show to focus exclusively on. 

The last shot we see is Cromartie discus throwing his metaphorical/real tire, and sighing "all this just to provide for the family." I know, right dude? Life is so hard for everyone. This recession hit million-dollar, 26-year-old cornerbacks the worst. I bet his children can't bring the finest quality caviar to school for lunch. The other kids at the school for the ridiculously rich (Probably in Hoboken) must make fun of them all the time. It's Cromartie's secret shame. 

Now, more shots of New York, a city in which the Jets will not play one down of football in this season. In fact, the only time they'll play in the state of New York is when they visit the Bills, unless they moved to Toronto over the summer and I wasn't made aware. Somebody please check this for me before the next recap. Look, we can debate the idiotic New Jersey/New York thing in the comments for the next five weeks (five, right? I'm never sure of how many episodes they do of this show) but the fact is, 90% of the players spend most of their time in Jersey, so let's at least give the state it's due. We should play a drinking game of every time the cameras show something in Jersey that isn't New Meadowlands Stadium.

After the credit sequence, we're in the little town of Cortland. This is the town the Jets spend training camp in after the town of Florham Park, N.J. spent tens of millions of dollars to build the team a practice facility. Sorry. Anyway, I guess it's a complement to Florham Park that Rexy deemed it not out of the way enough to hold training camp in. You're moving on up! Anyway, we see how the locals are preparing for the Jets arrival at SUNY Cortland. A lady reporter shows that apparently they will be at camp every day. Just like this show.

Is this Liev Schriber? Liev Schriber! The voice of HBO Sports talks about the Jets about to sign a new contract. No, kids, we're not going to get a twist, live screening of Revis signing with the team, though that would be undeniably great, like finding out the ending of a great murder mystery in the first 10 minutes of the show. Anyway, it's Rexy signing a deal to lead his Midnight Runners for another five seasons. Rexy calls his wife and tells her "you can go shopping, but keep it down." Is what we're really here at Jets camp to learn is that football players are secretly living in squalor? Why is everyone so damn poor on this show? 

The Jets have somehow managed to scrimp together money for a bus and police escort to take them to camp, so we see the players headed there. A massive crowd awaits them, for Cortland I suppose. Rexy speaks to the crowd about the team's draft picks, who are what appears to be the only players here. Rexy then notes all the new idiotic, spur-of-the-moment,  bandwagon Jet fans who showed up this time around, but he says it nicer than me. Liev Schriber notes Rexy's presence, but also the problem he has. Is it Revis?

Yes, it's Revis. All the players proceed to answer reporters questions about Revis. Frankly, if you're going to keep showing press scrums, HBO, I'm not going to watch. You're not supposed to be showing me what I hear the players say every day. You're ... not TV. Omniscent Liev Schriber explains the situation to anyone who spent the last few months in space, or at an Army camp where you're not allowed any pop culture or sports news (Welcome back, Teddy!). 

Oooohh! Powerpoint presentation! Some poor intern Rexy must've slaved away for hours on this. The Jets have, according to said Powerpoint extravaganza, "One Goal". To perfect a really good creme brulee? Oh, and the Super Bowl. Whatever. Rexy wants to lead the league in wins ... which only one team to win the Super Bowl has done outright since 1994. Off to a great start. Then he asks his defense what he expects of them. The question: does it matter that Revis isn't here?

Answer, according to Rexy: "God dammit, he's pretty fucking good." The players give this a big laugh in the pan to the crowd, in which we notice one of the players wearing an Al Sharpton t-shirt. Rexy points out that this is a team effort and blah, blah, blah. He just wants to "lead the league in fuckin' wins," people. He drives this point home one more time to the special teams group. Rexy then emphasizes the importance of a great training camp. How do you win against your own team?

I love Rexy's swagger when he gets off the winning thing. He knows expectations are high, the blank-looking players HBO keeps panning to know it. He exclaims "The best place to be is when expectations are high. Get used to it, it's always gonna' be that way. Now let's go out and prove everybody right. We know we're better than you, we don't give a fuck if you know it or not. We don't give a shit if you give us your best game, we're gonna' give you our best game, and we're gonna' beat the fuck outta' ya." I'd go to hell and back for this guy if he were my coach.

Oh, Christ. Are we really going to have to watch another sports montage to Eminem's overrated "Not Afraid"? I'm so tired of this song. Em' was so much better before he went on hiatus and recovered from drug addiction. Anyway, I guess we can see it as a nice break for your humble blogger to get some writing done. Thanks, HBO! Rexy's stoked to see the guys in the pads, and frankly, I am too. I'm tired of baseball. This is 100 percent the perfect time for football to return.

Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum is crazy for Rexy's old school Chuck Taylor high tops, and I am so with him on this. As a former wearer of Chuck's (though not high tops), I hope when I hit middle age I can rock them as well as he does. What a great dude. Tannenbaum sees this as good luck. Good style, sure. Good luck? It's a long season. Rexy explains (because we really need to fill up time on this show with things that aren't Eminem montages) that it's part his brand of shoe, and part luck, because he had a bad team in Arizona the one year he didn't do it. Ah, so that's why the Cardinals were terrible all those years.

We then get a big, Omniscient Liev Schriber feature on Rexy Ryan, whom someone jokes that they wish he'd "come out of his shell." We then go to our first "Talking Head" interview, and it's with Bart Scott, who says he'd take his coach into a dark alley with him ... for, I can only assume, a fight to the death. Let's hope he doesn't take "Sexy Rexy" literally. Scott explains that he communicates in the players' language, and then we here about how Rexy's father was Buddy Ryan, the great coach who led the 1985 Bears. We then see Rexy doing bed checks where he looks for the ghost of Darrelle Revis, and it's kind of funny, but also ... kind of sad. He then gives Tomlinson a ton of bad press written about the Jets. 

It's Woody Johnson time! It looks like he's going to play The Heavy on Hard Knocks, it looks like. He'll be striking down his charismatic coach to be more serious, sitcom style. He seems blown away with how much has been written about his squad.

Meanwhile, in the coaches' lair, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine reads some captions of a funny photo on ESPN.com of Rexy high fiving one of his players, by Rexy's request. He reads off "Krispy Kreme's our new sponsor" and "I get 10% of Revis' contract!". That's used as a segue to some serious reporter talk about Revis not being in camp. Rexy has come up with a novel idea to negotiate the deal. What is it, boy?!? "I'll give him my contract, and I'll take the one he turned down." Rexy's going to be the next great TV analyst once the coaching thing crashes and burns.

Now we meet the newest free agent additions of the Jets, courtesy of Omniscient Liev Schriber. Tomlinson TH's that he wants to put the past where it belongs and help the team now. Linebacker Jason Taylor talks about how he's seen a lot, including Edyta Sliwinska naked, I can only guess. The coaching staff wonders how Antonio Cromartie could've been available. Santonio Holmes is a former Super Bowl MVP. Omniscient Liev thinks they look good in green. Who doesn't? It's the color of the Hulk.

We now meet the guys who are probably going to be heartbreakingly cut later in the series. Their names are Brashton Satele, a linebacker out of Hawaii, and offensive tackle Aaron Kia. Sorry to be a spoiler alert, but apparently Kia's already been waived by the team. Oh well. They talk about how they're from the same town in Hawaii, and how different the state is from New York. Offensive line coach Bill Callahan (remember him?) talks about how Kia hasn't learned about NFL offensive after working the spread in college. Rexy comments that he's "awful". Yikes. Kia feels he still has a chance. We'll see, or ... not.

Rexy notices Satele doing much better. Linebacker coach Bob Sutton terms him an "interesting" prospect. Omniscient Liev reports that Satele got a lot less interesting when he sprained his ankle.

Meanwhile, rookie linebacker Kevin Basped is doing better. He TH's that he wants to live up to the expectations, of which there apparently are some, as I'd never heard of him until today. Rexy TH's that he's a "freak" and is "tremendous". Basped doesn't want to be a bust. Speaking of bust, he's got chronically bad knees, which seems like a big no no if you'd want to be a professional football player. Rexy is told by an assistant that "it's over" regarding Basped, who acknowledges he isn't 100 percent.

Another montage, this time Eminem-free. Rexy notes a serious issue, and holds up a bottle of tanning oil. An assistant coach, Jeff Weekes, who we find out was Sexy Rexy's college roommate, is the owner.  Rexy, disgusted in the TH, is incredulous. The other coaches discuss actually fining Coach Snooki, in addition to a fine he's apparently been given for running shirtless. Rexy apparently implemented a Hasselhoff tax. 

It looks like the Jets have all kinds of kooky fines, akin to a child being given a swear jar. Rexy gets fined everytime he has a snack, to keep him "on the reservation." We all know how well the Native Americans ate. The best Rexy can acquire is some cheese and crackers. Cut to an outdoor deck being affectionately dubbed as Cafe Ryan. The coaches proceed to eat and talk shop.

Omniscient Liev talks more about Revis, as a coach is watching his commercial. Awkward. Mike Tannenbaum and Woody Johnson are sitting together while talking to someone - I assume Revis' agent and Revis- on the phone, and Woody looks super pissed. Tannenbaum comments that it was extremely "non-negative." They then talk about how were all the same because we need to deal our wives, which gives Omniscient Liev a free transition to lead us to Kris Jenkins, a DT who's missed a year due to injury.

We then debut the bromance between Bart Scott and Rex Ryan, which is just delightful. Bart Scott, in the TH, has the same personality, to the point where it clearly drives other players crazy. Mark Sanchez tells Scott to "shut up" and it's the first time we've prominently featured the young, budding star of a QB, who is being portrayed as a soft, not-so-quick-witted hick, despite being from California, hardly the heartland. We then learn the most interesting thing about Sanchez is that ... he can catch really good. Okay, Omniscient Liev may have been right. Now we know why the guy who hangs out with N'Sync members and dated Meadow Soprano hasn't been featured until 30 minutes into the show.

Anyway, Sanchez - who is definitely less interesting than Turtle to finish that thread - is dealing with the fact that he is now the "leader" according to Rexy and Brian Schottenheimer. He seems to welcome it, though you sense that he's a tad nervous. This must've been during the breakup. But it stops the show dead in it's tracks. Like I said, this show will succeed and fail based on how much typical player speak we get out of these guys. Sanchez is a yawn.

Hey, Broadway's Joe's here! Presumably to give Mark Sanchez the gift of personality. Joe is dressed disturbingly like an old man, though he's trying to hold on to the youth thing. This gives Jets fans an excuse to see the footage of the Jets' only Super Bowl win. That must feel good to see if you're a fan. Namath notes that he think the team can win a championship this year. He watches Braylon Edwards with his daughter, who clearly couldn't be less interested, and I'm pretty sure mugs for the camera at some point. Though it is starting to rain, which provides us with a ton of cool shots of football in the rain. The Jets continue their drills, where they fumble a lot and Kris Jenkins gets super pissed, and then super happy.  I can't really tell the difference.

Namath is a welcome addition to the show, and he wants Sanchez to seriously start taking the snap what he claims is the right way. Sanchez has been having a bad day, and probably not the best day when you have a legend randomly hanging out at camp. One of them is even wearing a Broadway Joe themed t-shirt. It's an awkward combination of fanboyism and real talk with the cameras mixed in. After a meeting, Namath leaves to do something his daughter would find more interesting, and the coaches proceed to have a punt, pass and kick contest. 

Back to real life, or as close to real life as football gets, where 16-year veteran Tony Richardson is fighting to keep his job. Schottenheimer TH's about how helpful Richardson has been in assisting Sanchez with leading the team, something Marky Mark reaffirms. Jason Davis and John Conner (I don't know any Terminator jokes), whom the Jets seem especially impressed about. I know were deep into the show and we've gotta do an hour of this, but can we skip this part, please? I don't think I could be interested in anything less than the battle for starting fullback.

Finally we're done wasting time on fullbacks, and we see Tannenbaum driving to the Roscoe Diner to meet with Revis. All we get out of it is a "3 Hours Later" title card and a shot of Tannenbaum driving back. He is clearly frustrated, stating that Team Revis Island "hasn't said one thing that we agree with." This leads to the most refreshingly honest, unguarded moment in the show, where Tannenbaum wishes he had some other "card to play" where he could offer Revis a shorter or longer term deal. Come be an NHL GM, Mikey, we'll let you do as long a deal as you want, unless you do it purposefully to mock our pathetic CBA.

Next, we get a shot of a player doing ... something to his uniform pants, I haven't a clue. Is he buffing it? Is this like, the pants version of a shoe shine? Is he giving the pants extra tenacity? Does he have a pain fetish? Is he taking steroids? Another player seems confused by it, yet we never get an answer, it's just ... here's this weird thing, not let's not explain it and do something else. Meanwhile it's a Montage! Omniscient Liev announces that the team is about to have its first official scrimmage, the green and white game to wrap up week one of camp. 

On the first play, Tomlinson catches a long downfield pass for a touchdown, and I'd hate to be a Chargers fan watching this at the moment. As someone who remembers LT as a rookie, its certainly strange to see him as a veteran, having "played in a few games" as he put it. Cue more and more shots of the offense looking awesome, and Pettine looking super pissed and acting super pissed at how poorly his defense is playing. It doesn't help that the fans are chanting for Revis. 

Scrimmage is over, and the players are reunited with their wives, baby mamas and children. It's the requisite "sweet moment" to balance out the loads of swearing. Jason Davis appears ready to have sex with his wife, and a few other players head out to a bar, where they get a hero's welcome. This gives HBO a chance to do some douchey, Entourage-style shots of the guys living the sort-of high life.  At least, for now.

Now, it's time for cuts. If you Wikipedia'd Kevin Basped's name, you know that he's not on the team anymore. Wow, this is painful to watch. He's told he's being cut before he can even sit down, and that the odds against him having a successful NFL career are long. Its almost heart-wrenching to see the look in Basped's eyes when he's told this. Aaron Kia is next. He gets even worse news than Basped, in that he may have to play in the UFL if he can't find another team, and the stark images of them leaving (maybe not stark, this isn't a documentary on the Gaza Strip) are what ends the episode.

NEXT WEEK: A new angry, sassy coach! Mark Brunell! Potential first-round busts! The first game at the New Meadowlands Stadium! Hey, that hasn't even happened yet. Hard Knocks ... from the future! We find out that the show is going to be five episodes long, so see you next week!