Christmas came early this year for Detroit Lions fans during HBO Max’s Hard Knocks series premiere. While the national media may be getting their first real look at the culture of this organization, the die-hard Lions fans like myself knew exactly what was coming. Blue-collar men in a blue-collar town are what makes Detroit what it is. Shannon Furman, director of the series, displayed that perfectly in the first episode.
Motor City Dan Campbell
Dan Campbell, head coach of the Detroit Lions, is maybe the most charismatic coach in the NFL. Detroit fans have known this since day 1. He’s the emotional leader of this team and the one who is going to revamp the organization. It’s no secret in Detroit; he’s the man. There aren’t a lot of coaches in this league that their respective cities worship as much as Detroit does to MCDC (Motor City Dan Campbell). Especially someone who has three career head coaching wins. But the passion and grit he brings to the team daily has fueled this Lions team with new energy. From the show’s opening minutes, it’s clear how essential Campbell is to this organization.
The show opened with Campbell giving a triumphant speech to his team, referencing Metallica songs, drowning their opponents, and never backing down from anything. The show immediately sets the tone of what the head coach is about.
Campbell is the main focus of the show, something we haven’t seen Hard knocks do in recent years. But if any coach is going to be the star, it will be Campbell. Right after the introduction, we were shown practice footage of Dan Campbell and Aaron Glenn, defensive coordinator, doing 40 “up downs” with their team. The players comment on the commitment and energy he brings to the field. What we find out immediately after the scene is even better.
Campbell admits he wiped out at home after he tripped over his dog and thought he broke his wrist. He explained to his assistant coaches and a trainer that his initial thought was a concern as to how he was going to do the “up downs” with his team. Whether it was broke or not, he was going to find a way to do them. Luckily for everyone, his wrist wasn’t broken. But it’s this energy he brings that sets the gritty mentality of the team.
After Campbell plays through an injury, we immediately see Aidan Hutchinson, 2nd overall pick out of Michigan, jumping over his own hurdle. The classic rookie hazing of Hard Knocks shows Hutch in front of all of his teammates attempting to sing Billy Jean by Michael Jackson. The Edge rusher botches the first line and jokingly gets booed by his teammates. Hutchinson restarts and goes again, only to be cheered on by his teammates. A goofy, clever, and unique way to push the “fall and get back up” mentality. Point Hard Knocks editing team.
Hutchinson would go on to be the most featured player on the episode. The crew visits his home and family and gives us a glimpse of the personal life of the Lion’s newest star. I’m sure he’ll continue to get plenty of camera time.
The show then transitions into the new NFL guardian caps. Heavy contact players, such as linemen and linebackers, are required to wear an additional layer of protection over their helmets during practice. The show mentions that this reduces concussions by over 10%, which is obviously a great thing for the league. However, I think we’d all be lying if we said this segment didn’t go on a little too long. I’m not sure what Hard Knocks’ obsession with helmets is (shoutout Antonio Brown), but it seems to be a somewhat reoccurring theme on the show. My guess is the NFL wanted everyone to see how they’re keeping their players safe. Because, let’s be honest, the league needs some good PR right now.
Grown Men Do Cry
For supposedly being the grittiest team in the NFL, there were quite a few tears shed in the show’s premiere. Say what you want about it, but those players and that coaching staff are some of the toughest men you will meet. Showing their comfortability to show their emotions to each other will only create a stronger bond within the locker room.
Jamaal Williams, another camera favorite, gives a motivational speech to his team and even admits he gets emotional talking about last year because of how much it upsets him. He explains to his team to stay hungry and never back down or fold when they are tired. “Let the big dogs eat,” Williams said in tears. The Detroit locker room has no shame or judgment, and I love it. Williams is installing accountability in the team. He has standards for the effort his teammates bring and won’t accept anything less than 100 percent effort. Dan Campbell even comments to Jamaal early in the episode stating he never has a doubt Williams will bring it (energy) every day.
More than any previous Hard Knocks, the full coaching staff is going to get a lot of love. What is special about this coaching staff is the amount of experience on the field they have. The show stated they had over 80 years of combined NFL experience. A bunch of men who know exactly what kind of work it takes to succeed in this league. The coaching staff, like the city, is a bunch of blue-collared hard-working men.
Entering his second season as the Lions, QB Jared Goff was left off the short list of players introduced in the premier. The quarterback snuck into a couple of shots and got some words in but was never formally introduced by production. This is more than fine if you ask me.
Let’s not lie to ourselves. Goff isn’t the star of this team. He can be a good player if we surround him with great talent, as he took the loaded Rams team to a Super Bowl, but he’s never going to be the star. We don’t have to pretend like he is either. Goff is at his best when the attention isn’t on him. He’s a player that needs to be set up to succeed by other players, and it seems like Hard Knocks recognizes it. I’m sure we will get Goff screen time eventually, but let’s be content with him working quietly as other stars emerge on the show. That is when he’s at his best.
Now, we wait a week until the next episode of Hard Knocks. As the show continues, it will intensify. The next episode will feature the first pre-season game, which takes place Friday, August 12. The following week, cuts will be made. While the first episode was a great way to introduce the main characters for the season, it’s now time to get into the reason we all watch. Football.
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Great story on a really interesting episode of Hard Knocks. The Lions have suffered for so long, it’s hard not to cheer for them to turn around and be successful this season. As an old coach I appreciate Dan Campbell leading the way -that wasn’t for the cameras, that’s just a passionate coach leading by example. I used to run gassers with my players in my 40’s and there’s no way I was going to NOT run, even if it killed me!! Anyways, great write up on the episode!
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