HBO sure got its money's worth from the
Miami Dolphins this past weekend. On Friday night, shortly before
kick-off of the first preseason game against the Tampa Bay
Buccaneers, the team announced that quarterback David Garrard, a free
agent pick-up brought in to compete for the starting job, would be
undergoing knee surgery and miss four to six weeks.
A day later, star wideout Chad
Johnson was in handcuffs and being carted off to Broward County
Jail, accused of headbutting his wife Evelyn Lozada, who got mad at
the ex-Mr. Ochocinco when she found a receipt for a box of condoms.
By Sunday night, Johnson had been kicked off the team. All this while the cameras were rolling!
You're damn right we tuned into Hard Knocks last night to relive all the painful memories.
But before the HBO film crew gets to the money shot of head coach Joe Philbin dismissing the controversial wide receiver, the second episode of Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Miami Dolphins opens with a news clip about the unexpected death of Garrett Reid, the oldest son of Philadelphia Eagles Head Coach Andy Reid. It's a tragic story that Philbin is all too familiar with.
The Death of Michael Philbin
The head coach recounts how he found out that his son Michael had been found dead in a frozen river shortly after interviewing for the Dolphins' gig, when he was still offensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers. Although the sappy background music was a bit annoying, Philbin's account hits the viewer like a Muay Thai knee strike to the ribs.
He says: "As we were waiting in the police station, our daughter, who is 10-years-old, put her arm around her mother and said, 'you didn't do anything wrong. It is not your fault that Michael; you let him go out visit his friends."
Philbin recalls being numb and shell-shocked when his other son, Tim, asked him if he was going to pursue the Miami job. "I said, 'I don't know, I haven't really thought about it,'" Philbin recollects, his voice cracking. "He said, 'Mike would want you to do it.'"
Then we get a shot of Philbin on the phone with his peer, Reid. Kudos to HBO for getting the audience to feel empathy with the head coach. In the first episode, Philbin came off as a party pooping principal. But after the second episode's opening scene, he's just another human being trying to move on from a horrific family tragedy.
Tight End Boot Camp
The camera cuts to rookie tight end Les Brown, the guy from the first episode who gave up a career in finance to chase his NFL dream, being grilled by someone off camera who questions his motivation for being the first guy to sit down for a team meeting. A voice booms: "Well, we don't know if you're an early guy or if you're just kinda here because Hard Knocks is here..."
We quickly learn that despite rising early, Brown still can't block worth a lick. Then we get treated to a montage of what Brown can do: catch the pigskin over the middle. Next, we meet another tight end, third round pick Michael Egnew, who is having a hard time picking up plays. We hear tight ends coach Dan Campbell tell one of his subordinates to keep an eye on Egnew. "Stay on him," he says. "He needs it man. He's a good kid, but he needs to know how things go on around here."
In the next scene, Egnew and Charles Cates, yet another tight end, are on the receiving end of a profanity-laced job evaluation from offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. "I am telling you right now I got nothing to say about you at these meetings other than he's not doing his job," Sherman barks at Cates. "You better start picking your shit up. It wasn't good enough. You hurt us the other day."
Sherman then turns on Egnew. "You were terrible," Sherman says. "I would cut you today if I was general manager. Get your head out of your ass. This group is not waiting for you. You were drafted as a high pick. Get your shit going, you understand?"
Someone should remind Sherman that this is Hard Knocks, not Full Metal Jacket. Whenever football coaches try to act like drill instructor Gunnery Sgt. Hartman it just looks ridiculous.
The QB Battle
Moving on, episode two picks up the QB story line from last week that had Garrard ahead of last year's starter Matt Moore and first round pick Ryan Tannehill on the depth chart. After some shots of Garrard and Moore practicing, the camera cuts to Tannehill standing in front of the entire team singing an off-key rendition of "Lean on Me," followed by more practice shots, which can get monotonous. Thankfully, we have DVR so we just fast forward through those parts and the whole segment on the tradition of hazing rookies by giving them fucked up hair cuts and shaving off their eyebrows.
Oh, we also got treated to yet another practice montage; because what else are they going to fill the one hour time slot on a football show with? We know more are coming, considering the episode is only 20 minutes in.
Ochocinco's Last Hurrah
Of course, training camp wouldn't be complete without a surprise standout player. In this case, it's wide receiver Chris Hogans, who has earned the nickname "7-11" because he is always open. Never mind that he's catching balls at practice and not in a full speed NFL regular season game.
Meanwhile, Johnson -- the superstar wearing number 85 -- is having trouble shaking off veteran cornerback Sean Smith. It's a perfect segue into Johnson's story line and how he's had trouble shaking off the label that he's a self-centered trouble maker.
In an interview that foreshadows his arrest, Johnson tells the cameras: "I don't have to put on a front for the cameras. I think that is why everyone gets so freaking, 'Oh my God!' when someone gets in trouble because they put on this front or perception on. And then when they get arrested or get caught doing something, it's like 'Oh my God!' So with me, its raw and uncut, 24-7.'"
After a shot of Johnson getting upset with himself for messing up a play, we get treated to ... wait for it ... a MONTAGE! At least this time HBO changed it up. Instead of practice, we get to see a south Florida thunderstorm pound the training camp facility; a harbinger of the turmoil that is about to engulf Johnson.
Preseason Opener Versus The Bucs
At a QB meeting, Moore gets the news that he is the starter against Tampa Bay because Garrard is out with his injury. Last year's QB can hardly hide his excitement. He facetiously wishes Garrard a speedy recovery.
Then Hard Knocks finally shows us something you don't get to see everyday, even if you follow professional football. You see the equipment team guys peeling off the Dolphin logos and stripes off the helmets so they can clean them. Then we get to see the players lounging in the locker room before warm-ups. Exciting stuff, folks.
For posterity's sake, we get one last montage filled with game highlights and lowlights, including Johnson dropping the only pass thrown to him; a short slant on third down. After the first team offense led by Moore fails to move the ball, Tannehill gets his shot. He ends up leading the Dolphins to a TD drive in the third quarter.
After the game, Philbin reminds the team they have a long way to go, a lot of room for improvement, and get back to work, yadda yadda, yadda.
Johnson Gets Cut
The last 10 minutes of the episode deals with Johnson's arrest. At a team meeting the morning after, Philbin addresses the situation and informs the team that the organization is going to make a decision once he has all the facts. Cut to Philbin meeting with Dolphins head of security Stuart Weinstein, who relays that Johnson called him almost in tears. "He thinks you're gonna cut him," Weinstein says. "This will probably be my death penalty."
Johnson shows up to the Dolphins' Davie facility in a maroon Toyota minivan as Philbin discusses the problems he's had with the star wide receiver with team owner Stephen Ross. "We had incident this summer when he was tweeting stuff he shouldn't have been," Philbin says. "Then we had the press conference when he goes off on a tirade, F this and F that. And now, you know, we have this thing ... His temperament isn't great for us."
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Johnson walks into Philbin's office and sits down. "I let you down a little bit or a lot," Johnson says. "I understand what you're doing. You got the message across the first day we met ... I apologize for embarrassing you, the organization and my teammates."
But despite Johnson's pleas, Philbin has made his decision. "Where you are and where we are headed, I just don't see the mesh right now," Philbin says. "I wish it was different. I wish it was more encouraging. But, I think it is best for both of us to part ways at this time."
The episode ends with Johnson's locker being taken apart as he walks out of training camp for the last time.