It’s understood by now that HBO’s Hard Knocks exists as a strategy to get NFL fans to care about an otherwise crummy team, and for that crummy team’s fans to feel special because of the attention of a TV show. Each year, the docuseries generally hits the same points: One player you never thought about before turns out to have a compelling personality, actually; a third-string guy on the roster bubble becomes a rooting interest because of his backstory; some position coach is really creative with how he swears. This year’s edition, which followed the Detroit Lions, stuck to that script, but the very end of Tuesday’s season finale baffled me.
The true benefit of doing Hard Knocks for this specific team was pulling out more soundbites and mixed metaphors from head coach Dan Campbell, whose default voice sounds like a pro wrestler tearfully delivering an in-ring retirement speech. He’s come a long way since his introductory presser, when he vowed to build a team foundation of grittiness and kneecap biting. In the closing minutes of the finale, various staffers and players were asked to finish the sentence, “The 2022 Detroit Lions will…” Campbell took a long time to come up with an answer that completely undid whatever optimism I had gained from the previous four episodes.
More people should think before they speak; I have no issue with that. On television, especially if they don’t trim it down, there’s a certain length of time until that silence works against you. Maybe this is on the editors of Hard Knocks for keeping an uninterrupted minute of Dan Campbell contemplating, scratching his goatee, and saying, “Number of ways I can go with that,” before he settles on the closing statement, the line that will set the tone for this season, the culmination of everything we saw in five episodes: “The 2022 Detroit Lions will be the team that can, and will.” Good grief. That’s as powerful as a slogan for a Democratic Senate candidate running in Arkansas. The line about one asscheek and three toes would’ve been a better closer. Maybe he should’ve taken another minute.
Then the episode cuts to black. Until those final minutes, I was willing to believe that the Lions could flirt with a wild-card spot. Now I’ll be astonished if they win five games.