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Let ‘Hard Knocks’ Die Already

12:52 PM EDT on June 27, 2023

BEREA, OH - JULY 28: Microphones of HBO's "Hard Knocks" series hover over the Cleveland Browns offense during a training camp practice on July 28, 2018 at the Cleveland Browns training facility in Berea, Ohio. (Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)
Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images

Time for your weekly edition of the Defector Funbag. Got something on your mind? Email the Funbag. And buy Drew’s book, The Night The Lights Went Out, while you’re at it. Today, we're talking about the imploded sub, uniforms, installs, guys named Earnest, and more.

Before I delve into your deepest thoughts and desires this week, let all give a big round of applause to yogurt-eating creep Hamilton Nolan for his magnificent performance last week at the helm of this column. I do not rank Funbag guest hosts in my head, because I am not petty (Jeremy and Rajat are No. 1), but Ham would sure as shit be up there. Against his stated wishes, much fun was had. And congrats to reader Tony on winning a Bluesky invite code for getting Ham to answer a question earnestly about the Jaguars. I should have stipulated that I really wanted Ham to talk about the FOOTBALL part of Jaguarsness, but that’s on me for leaving a loophole open for Tony to so cannily exploit.

And now it’s time for your letters! GIDDYUP, CLEMENTINE!

John:

Do you think Hard Knocks should just pick four or five teams and have a couple of episodes on those teams instead of the whole show about one team?

Hard Knocks should close up shop. It’s overstayed its welcome by about a decade now. Hard Knocks hits its peak with Rex Ryan exhorting the Jets to go get a goddamn snack, but since then it’s largely been a waste of time. The only “good” footage they’ve aired on that show lately was from the in-season freefall of the 2022 Cardinals team. No one within that organization could disguise their contempt for one another last season, but that’s rarely the case on Hard Knocks, or any other inside show. Most coaches, players, and executives are now well-versed in giving nothing away, which makes for lousy television. The latest iteration of the Cardinals have already sorted that out, going by this footage from their war room back in April:

Wow. It’s like someone got hold of the next Zapruder film. I can hardly believe my eyes. When new GM Monti Ossefort says, “Give me one minute, I’ll call you back”? EDGE OF MY FUCKING SEAT. Couldn’t wait to see what would happen next, I tell you.

In its quest for year-round content, the NFL has placed cameras and microphones just about everywhere besides the team showers (with the exception of the Cowboys cheerleaders' locker room, where Jerry Jones has a whole Sliver setup going). As a predictable result, everyone knows the cameras are there, and accordingly keeps their guard up at virtually all times. So the more footage the NFL tries to get, the less interesting that footage becomes. This is why no team wants to do Hard Knocks. This is why Bill Belichick will never give more than a two-word answer to any question he doesn’t care for. This is why young coaches like Sean McVay can hold court for hours without ever saying anything you haven’t heard before. There’s no upside to public candor for any of these people, and teams have to preserve what bare amount of private interactions they have left.

This is true of regular people as well. A lot of people, myself very much included, have put themselves out there, usually online, for public display. But the more of yourself you give away, the fewer secrets you get to keep. And what secrets DO remain are either dull, self-implicating, or shit that people will simply refuse to believe if they ever found out. This is the big drawback to living in a more transparent society. Everyone ends up putting on a show, and the show is usually terrible. Like Hard Knocks. I’ll never watch that shit again.

Alexander:

Why do they call it “installing” a new NFL offense? What a weird verb for it, like it’s a new video game being uploaded it into a linebacker’s brain.

Because they’re installing it. Not physically, of course. But you can install things conceptually, which is what NFL teams do not just on an annual basis, but on a weekly basis as well. Coaches study the tape, design a custom package of formations and plays for the opponent, and then install that package into that week’s game plan by presenting it to their players and then drilling them on all of it. As far as football lingo goes, “install” is on the normal side.

The cool part is when they use “install” as a noun and not a verb. I hear it every season. On Wednesdays we have install, etc. And you know what? I’m down with it. Every other field of business has its own internal jargon (every time I saw the word “transpo” in Heat 2, my heart soared), so I don’t see why football can’t. Football is its own world, with its own rituals and doublespeak. If you’ve ever heard Ron Jaworski talk, you know that some of these terms can be outright nonsensical. But I like to hear the terminology that current coaches, players, and credible analysts—people who know what they’re talking about—are using, and I like knowing what those terms mean. Makes me feel like a fighter pilot. So I love it when coaches use “install” as a noun, and when J.T. O’Sullivan tells me that the receiver is running a choice route, etc. I love using those terms myself, even. Did I mention that it’s the end of June and I’d kill my family to watch some football right now? Because I would.

Louie:

When I was in elementary and middle school, my dad, who worked as a sprinkler installer on his own, would take me out on jobs with him. He'd tell me I had to get good grades in school so that I'd never have to do it for a living myself. I've still never seen another person work as physically hard for as long. I know now that he was also trying to impart a solid work ethic in me. Spoiler alert: it didn't really work in that regard. But I do have a cushy white collar job though, so mission accomplished on that front. What's a character or personality trait that you wish you acquired from your parents that you didn't and also what's one that you DID acquire that you wish you had not?

My mom is an excellent gardener, and while I despise yardwork of any sort, I do wish I had to power to keep plants alive. As it stands right now, any plant life entrusted to my care is fucking doomed. It’s almost as if I’m cursed … or as if I have zero education in botany or any interest in it. Could go either way. As for my dad, he’s a better skier, tennis player, and chess player than I am or ever will be. I will never beat him in any of those things, and that’s bullshit. The whole point of being a son is to grow so big and strong that you can destroy your father in all respects. Very disappointing that I’ll never be able to realize that dream.

The good news is that I’ve inherited pretty much everything else from my parents. Because of my mom, I turn into a control freak whenever company is about to come over, I sleep poorly, I hate people getting near me when I’m cooking, I hate talking on the phone, I arrive at any airport three hours early, and I have big hair. Because of my dad, I sneeze loud enough to wake hibernating bears, I have Resting Lost Person Face, I’m a terrible reader, I make awful sounds when startled, and I get impatient at restaurants if the entrées take more than six minutes to come out.

At 46, I am now at an age similar to my parents when they were raising me (and, in both mannerisms and temperament, they aren’t much different people today). I have no memory of my dad when he was in his 30s, and I didn’t exist prior to that. So whenever I act like my parents now, I know it instantly. And then I shudder. This makes no sense, given that I love my parents and admire them. But it’s also a natural instinct, because every child wants to be their own person, and it’s hard to feel like your own person when your parents occasionally bodysnatch you in random moments. When my wife and kids and I got back from the beach this past weekend, we sat down for dinner and I said to everyone at the table, “Well, thanks for a great vacation, you guys!” My wife immediately burst out laughing, and I knew why. My old man has said that before. MANY times. I’m just like him, whether I like it or not. And the truth is that I should like it more often than I do. Besides, I’m a WAY better writer than either of them, so I got that going for me.

William:

What Jaguar is most likely to be named Earnest? A coach, a running back, a trainer, or a kicker?

This question was obviously meant for Hamilton Nolan, but as he cowardly evaded actual football talk, I’ll have to do his job for him here. Fucking lazy ass. The answer is coach. Earnest/Ernest is a real '80s/'90s NFL name, which means that any current Earnest in the league—in Jacksonville or elsewhere—is bound to be a former Guy who crossed over to the coaching ranks. Could be Earnest Byner. Could be Ernest Givins. Who’s to say? All I know is that all NFL coaching staffs now have at least two Guys on them, and one of them is usually Eric Bieniemy. All of them are good with the install.

JJ:

How do you make sure that plates on top of the plate stack in the cabinet, or that cups in the front of the cupboard, aren’t totally overused? I have mugs that have been used once, maybe, and others in the row in front that I’ve used 4 times this week. Do I need to regularly rotate dishware so that there is an even distribution of use?

You don’t. That would require effort, and effort is a construct. We, as a species, do not need it. Unless they’re made of paper, no plate or cup can be overused. They were made to be used repeatedly. Even when a cup DOES show signs of wear and tear, that only cements it as your Favorite Cup. Take my coffee cup, for instance. I only want coffee from my coffee cup. If my cup is dirty and I plan on drinking another coffee that day, I’ll just rinse that mug out and leave it on the counter. Because I used it so often, that cup had visible stain rings on the inside and, even better, a lip stain around the rim from where I sipped my coffee every day and night. I love these stains. Those stains let everyone know that this is dad’s cup, and that dad is a truly disgusting person. So why would I ever reach into the bowels of my cabinet to drink from some pristine, loser mug? That shit is for when we have houseguests.

In a bitter development yesterday, my wife cleaned ALL the stains off of that mug. I thanked her, but I didn’t really mean it. When I had my coffee this morning, I didn’t even rinse the cup out. Because I want my stains back; I want my cup to look like a failed art class project.

HALFTIME!

Lou:

I was eating dinner with my wife when I noticed a small brown speck in the salad bowl and flicked it to the edge. I looked closer and noticed two tiny antennae pop up. A slug! I looked over at my wife’s plate and she had finished her helping. Is the right thing to do in this situation to tell your spouse? What about another family member, or a friend? (I of course DID NOT tell my wife, as she can recall with vivid detail every time she’s had a bug or hair in food.) (also fuck you Drew)

I’d tell my own wife, but she’s not as finicky about bugs or hair in her food as Lou’s wife appears to be. We buy a decent amount of organic produce, which means that dirt and bugs are occasional hazards. That’s the cost of eating clean, baby. So if I ever get a tiny slug in my salad (and I do believe I have), I show it off to the wife and kids and am like LOOGIT THE SLUG EWWW before removing it and tucking back in. Lets me know the salad is good for my bowels.

To answer the question more directly, there’s no moral imperative to tell everyone else if there’s a foreign object or creature in a shared platter of food at home. Unless there’s a packet of anthrax nestled in there, or something else that’s obviously toxic, it’s not gonna hurt any of you. You’re just gonna make everyone else freak out over nothing at all, which is social media’s job. If it’s a restaurant, that’s another matter. If my wife had an ant in her soup at the Capital Grille, I’d point it out not in amusement, but in mild alarm. We could get that soup comped, after all. I don’t wanna pass that chance up.

(Also I love you Lou.)

Larry:

I'm having trouble determining how I feel about the imploded sub. On one hand they are people (one guy is on there with his 18-year-old son) and imagining being trapped in that thing for 48 hours while waiting to die is Stephen King levels of horror. On the other hand, these dipshits won the lottery of life, have enough money to literally do anything and THIS is what you choose? Anyway, I find myself grappling with, "Do they deserve this fate?" I think they do. Do you think they deserve it?

No. No one deserves to die while sitting in an imploding sub near the bottom of the ocean floor. Besides, it’s not like Ron DeSantis was stuck in that glorified bath toy. Nothing about the Oceangate disaster changed a fucking thing. That’s why the only thing I liked reading about it was what Imbler had to say, because they used that story to take a broader look at extreme tourism and what purpose it ultimately serves. That purpose, as you might have guessed, is barely discernible: a mix of hubris and natural human curiosity. But it’s one thing to say, “These people are being reckless, irresponsible, and stupid,” and another to say, “lol they’re gonna suffocate lol fight the power” literally as those people are dying. Empathy shouldn’t be means-tested.

Monte:

Isn’t it sort of bullshit for a single city to have two teams in the same sport? 

Only if the city in question was, like, Cincinnati. If it’s a city as large as New York or Los Angeles, there’s more than enough people on hand to support two teams instead of just one. My only beef is when those teams play in the same arena or stadium. Sure, it saves money (in the barest of terms) for them to split a place, but teams in the same area should at least stake out separate parts of town. The Niners used to rep San Francisco. The Oakland Raiders used to rep the other side of the Bay. That was cool. That made sense. But when both the Giants and the Jets occupy the same parcel of Jersey swampland that NO ONE in the tri-state area ever wants to visit, let alone live in, that’s another matter. Both those teams are just taking up space at this point.

Alex:

Am I a boomer for thinking most new uniforms suck? I'm mainly thinking of the NFL, but most uniform redesigns can't hold a candle to their classic counterparts. For example, when the Browns brought out modernized uniforms that looked like a third tier SEC school like seven years ago only to revert back to their classic ones.

Oh good, I can use Alex’s question to issue a few rules I have for football uniforms. First of all, I want big numerals. There’s nothing worse than a football jersey where the numerals are so small, they look like your fucking order number on a Starbucks receipt. Looks idiotic on a 300-pound lineman. Secondly, I want borders around the numerals. When the numerals have no borders, it looks like an intern ironed them on and failed. Lastly, no more monochrome unis. The only monochrome unis I ever liked were SDSU’s back when Marshall Faulk was on that team. Those are grandfathered in. The rest are dogshit.

And here is where I get to argue that’s NOT the boomer in me complaining. Why are there so many monochrome unis in the NFL? Because Nike got an exclusive contract with the league to design all of its uniforms. Years ago, some asshole at Nike decided that Color Rush unis looked tight, and they’ve never changed their minds about it. Matt Damon will star in the movie about this asshole, and I will never watch it.

Meanwhile, NFL teams themselves are so averse to dramatic brand changes that they never change color schemes, even if those schemes went out of date back in 1997 (I’m talking about Carolina and Jacksonville here). Every offseason, Adam Schefter tweets some shit like “The Broncos are getting a new look this upcoming season [eyeballs emoji]” and then it turns out that they added piping to the lower leg. So the reason that new NFL uniforms suck is because they’re rarely, if ever, allowed to be truly new. It’s one oligarchy jerking off another. Even the Commanders didn’t change their colors, man. I’ve had Thanksgiving dinners with more variety.

Other sports are a completely different matter. College football still goes crazy with the Cheez Whiz for all of its uniforms. I don’t like Michigan wearing blue pants, but otherwise I’m fine with the Louisvilles of the world reaching deep into the bag of fonts and going with the first thing they pull out. I also like a lot of the City Edition uniforms in the NBA (funny how Nike puts more thought and care into their basketball getups than they do football). And even if I don’t like some of the City unis, at least I notice them. At least there’s some fashion to them, and fashion matters. Neither NBA teams, college teams, nor soccer teams abroad are as slavishly faithful to their in-house style guides as the NFL, and all of their teams look better for it. So this isn’t a question of new vs. old, because plenty of old uniforms (Raptors) are hideous. It’s about which leagues and teams actually bother to have some imagination.

Will:

How much does the average professional athlete in the top American leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL) actually care about winning a championship? My assumption is that most of them are just happy to be in the league, and the luxury of obsessing over titles is for those stars that have more job security and aren't worried about just trying to get one more week or year out of their careers.

All of them want to win a title, because who doesn’t like winning shit? I wanna beat my children in Uno when I play them, for fuck’s sake. So it’s only natural to want a ring, and a team’s title aspirations and an individual player’s interests usually go hand in hand. If your team wins a lot of games, you get some measure of credit for it, you become more visible, and then you get paid. Ask Dexter Jackson.

The key difference between players and fans is that most players are NOT crushed if they don’t win a title every year. I remember this from reading a book Stefan Fatsis wrote about the time he attended training camp, as a kicker, with the Denver Broncos. These players know, with an intimacy that you and I will never possess, how hard NFL football is. They want to win, and they’d love to have a title, both for the glory and for the dough. But if they don’t win it all, they know why. They understand. They’ll survive. I, a fan, will not. I die every January.

Mike:

I’m a very awkward person which will be evident by the rest of this email. I struggle to talk with even my closest of friends in person, but I’m Rico Suave through text. Not that I’m trying to hook up with people or anything, I’m just good at talking when texting. My question is if you had any tips for conversation topics when talking to people who aren’t exactly friends but whom you see every few years or so. Someone you’d maybe have 5-10 min conversation with, max. Whenever I interact with these people and get past, “hey how are things?” I panic. I break into a complete sweat and don’t know what to say. Then I think about the conversation for the next 3-4 days. Also I have young kids and will eventually be attempting to talk to a shit ton of parents. I asked my friends for advice and they told me to send my questions to this email. Ok thanks bye.

I’m no doctor, Mike, but it sounds like you have some social anxiety to go with the usual dose of dad awkwardness. The former can be handled by talking to a professional. The latter comes with the territory. I fucking hate small talk. I rarely chatted up other parents at the bus stop. If I see a neighbor while walking my dog, I say hi but rarely break stride. And whenever I go to some big party, I usually latch onto my wife or a close friend and follow them around like I’m their security detail.

The funny thing is that whenever I DO make small talk with passing acquaintances, I enjoy it. I turn on the charm and remember that it’s okay—and downright healthy—to talk with people other than the same handful of family members/co-workers I talk with every day. All it takes is a bit of effort and NOT having a phone on hand to retreat into. So the next time you find yourself in that spot, muster up a bit of courage and dive into the pool. You won’t become a sudden extrovert, but you’ll ease into yourself a bit more when others are around. Or just be drunk all the time.

Email of the week!

Michael:

Have you seen this clip of Hank Azaria talking about the "great ass!" scene in Heat? I personally have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, it's a great story (and it's even better delivered by Azaria doing Pacino impersonations). On the other hand, it basically ruins the narrative I had in my head of Pacino just reaching this point in his career where he decided to lean indiscriminately into full Pacino mode at all times, whatever the results. In reality, it seems Mann maybe coaxed that performance out of him, which is both incredible and a little disappointing. But I also have a bit of a different perspective on Heat. I saw it for the first time in my mid 30s. I love the movie, but I think for different reasons than you and many other folks. (I'm trying really hard not to sound like an asshole and say that I like it ironically, but that's probably the truth of it.). But I'm curious about your perspective as a true Heat superfan on the backstory behind this iconic scene.

I haven’t seen that GQ clip before! Hell, I worked at GQ for nine years! I feel like an idiot. Anyway, that’s a fantastic story that only enriches the film for me. For me the spontaneity is the juice.

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