"Tough, Smart Football"
Those were the first words out of Liev Schreiber's mouth as he introduced us to the ninth season of HBO's Hard Knocks featuring the Atlanta Falcons. And, over the next hour, we definitely got football – some of which was even of the tough and/or smart variety. But, as is always the case with this show, there was much, much more.
In episode one, we met several players we'll be paying close attention to throughout the season. Like Bear Pascoe, who is seen living the grueling life of a cattle rancher – which has prepared him for the grueling life of the NFL. Or sensitive artist Steven Jackson, who is showcasing his surprisingly awesome work at a gallery. Bravo, Jax! Also, Terrell Owens was there, probably because he heard TV cameras would be present.
Next, we're introduced to potential Hard Knocks MVP Harry Douglas and his wife, "Mrs. Georgia International," Kierra Douglas. At one point Kierra compares the struggles of living with Harry to the struggles of raising five children, which they don't have – to which Harry replies, "See, you have kids without even havin' kids. That's a blessing." Tremendous stuff, Mr. Douglas.
Cut to the home of Kroy Biermann and Kim Zolciak who already star in their own reality show Don't Be Tardy. The best part of this whole segment is watching Biermann and Zolciak force their entire family to sit and watch themselves on a reality show…as another reality show films them. You know, just livin' the American dream.
The team begins to trickle into Flowery Branch as coach Mike Smith meets with each rookie one-on-one while wearing Chacos, because nothing says "I'm an NFL head coach" like Chacos. That's where we're introduced to Jake Matthews who is deemed "the leader of this group." Prediction: don't bank on Matthews being cut.
We move on to the dorm rooms where Harry Douglas informs us that he A) brings his own TV because the ones they provide are too small, and B) uses women's deodorant. I'm ready to give Harry an Emmy at this point. He's perfect.
At last, we get our first bone-crushing football montage as T.I.'s "Go Get It" plays in the background for extra effect. On the sideline, Steven Jackson gives some rookies the longest pep-talk of their lives (the only thing he didn't talk about was art), William Moore and Roddy White jokingly talk shit to each other and Biermann is performing a step behind everyone else. This leads to Beirmann and Matthews getting into it, which gave us this great moment in NFL coaching:
Kroy Biermann (to Mike Smith): "I don't take no shit, right?"
Mike Smith: "That's right."
We now get a glimpse into the minds of two of Smith's hard-ass assistant coaches, Mike Tice and Bryan Cox. Both seem to bring a "I give zero shits about these cameras" vibe that this show is bound to benefit from. At one point, Coach Cox tells his players to block like they're "rubbing nipples" or something like that. I'm so excited to get to know these two a little more as the season progresses.
Over the course of the next few minutes we learn a few important details. First, rookie Jacques Smith takes zero shit from anyone regardless of status, SJax has a left hamstring injury (shocking, I know), and Devonta Freeman, who benefits from Jackson's injury, is proving himself to be a bad-ass on the field.
It's time for the CRIBS portion of the show: Freeman is seen house shopping on a rookie contract, being easily impressed by a walk-in closet and a decent-sized bathtub. Meanwhile, William Moore shows off his house, which has a giant palm tree in the center of it. You will not be surprised to learn that's what sold him on the property.
The next few segments include some entertaining bits such as Donte Rumph trying to rid himself of the nickname "Cupcake," Peria Jerry retiring for no particular reason and one of the finest training camp traditions: a rookie talent show. This year featured Jeff Matthews singing Zac Brown's "Chicken Fried," Ra'Shede Hageman singing R. Kelly's "Feelin' on Yo Booty" and a damn-near perfect Keith Armstrong impression from Dezmen Southward.
We finally close on a scrimmage held at a local high school, dubbed "Friday Night Lights" because why not? During the game we see some impressive passing from Matt Ryan, true promise from Jake Matthews and Devonta Freeman learning the harsh realities of getting blindsided mid-route. That's not smart football, but it's pretty tough.
MVP of the Night: Harry Douglas. Unquestionably.
Line of the Night: "Your pass-rush is elegant" – Roddy White to Osi Umenyiora.