The premiere episode of Hard Knocks, HBO’s annual look inside NFL training camp, could start with essentially the most boring, un-telegenic 30 minutes of footage NFL Films has ever delivered. It’s nonetheless fascinating. And it’s nonetheless top-of-the-line real-time documentaries about ongoing life within the COVID-19 pandemic.
I went into the primary episode, which HBO Max made obtainable on Tuesday, skeptical that the league will even play this yr. Major League Baseball is delivering an object lesson in how carrying on a season exterior of a controlled “bubble” environment is borderline folly.
And that’s the National Pastime: soccer is the National Contact Sport, the place there’s a professional fear about catching coronavirus on the backside of a fumble pile. The Big Ten and Pac-12’s schools, which develop numerous the expertise the professionals use on Sundays, won’t play football at all this year. The NFL gained’t play any pre-season video games, not that they’ll actually be missed. I’m resigned to the concept Madden NFL 21 is gonna be the one soccer on my TV this yr.
And but, on Hard Knocks, Los Angeles Chargers coach Anthony Lynn frames the issue of the pandemic in such a pure football-coach method, with such a attribute challenge-accepted angle, that I can’t assist however suppose the NFL will go on. Because hell, this may all work out to a strategic benefit for some golf equipment.
“The team that handles this the best now is gonna have the best chance of winning that trophy,” Lynn advised his gamers of their camp’s first Zoom assembly, considered one of a number of that Hard Knocks peeks in on.
The man has some extent. In regular years, the championship membership is commonly the one which logs the fewest accidents, significantly at a very powerful positions. With the league’s COVID-19 protocol a couple of brick thick on paper, Lynn causes that the crew that follows it essentially the most diligently and essentially the most utterly not solely can play soccer this yr, they’ll win all of it.
“You have two opponents. You have your schedule, and you have COVID,” Lynn says in a name with the media. “Both game plans are equally important, COVID might be more important. Whoever shows the most personal responsibility and leadership, I believe they’ll have the advantage this year.”
Sean McVay, coach of the cross-town Rams (the 2 golf equipment are sharing a brand-new stadium this yr) sees it the identical method finally, if not initially. As his camp opens, McVay dutifully organizes the outside assembly and weight areas and plans on dealing with the offense and protection in several instructions whereas they’re below an infinite 70-yard tent. But for himself, personally, he appears just a little informal in regards to the danger the novel coronavirus poses.
In the latter half of the present, McVay will get faith. Terrell Lewis, a Rams rookie, exams optimistic for COVID-19. (The Chargers, in the meantime, get no optimistic outcomes.) McVay on the subsequent crew assembly directs everybody to double down on their pandemic security efforts. “I haven’t set a good example,” he admits. “I have to do a better job.”
The presentation of all the pieces the groups are doing to stay protected whereas nonetheless getting on with their livelihoods — which they’ve a proper to need as a lot as all of us wish to do our jobs, too — actually modified my tune on whether or not the NFL ought to even attempt to maintain a season. From social-distancing ground markers with the crew’s brand on them to directions that gamers ought to open standing cooler doorways with their toes to get Gatorade, the NFL is doing what the NFL does greatest: It’s tossing a zillion orders at 20-year-olds and demanding they comply with each single one. You come away from the primary episode of Hard Knocks considering, shit, this league is likely to be uniquely ready to handle this.
(Of course, as I used to be scripting this, Seattle minimize a rookie defensive again caught trying to sneak a woman — wearing Seahawks garb, no much less — into the coaching camp resort.)
Hard Knocks’ first episode isn’t all in regards to the coronavirus. It checks off the standard dramas of practice-squad guys attempting to hold on one other week, the laborious enterprise of chopping the gamers who can’t, and large superstars just like the Rams’ Jalen Ramsey and Joey Bosa both searching for or signing for life-changing cash of their subsequent contract.
None of that makes me wish to root for both crew, although. Hard Knocks, in 15 seasons over the previous 20 years, normally following down-at-the-heels non-contenders, not often gave me a superb purpose. Now I’ve one. I wish to see the Chargers’ Justin Jones, who solely skilled with one individual throughout the entire low season, and spent the remainder of his time at house, get to play soccer. I really feel like he’s earned it. I’d wish to see Anthony Lynn’s will-do optimism, and his dedication to the protection protocol, repay with postseason success. They, and the Rams, are setting a superb instance for this league and others. And they’re performing as position fashions for the general public, too.
The first episode of the 15th season of Hard Knocks launched on Aug. 12. New episodes arrive each Tuesday by way of HBO Max.