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Football Is Back

The five best moments from an all-time great "Hard Knocks" opening episode, ranked

As a lover of all things football, I die on the "Hard Knocks" hill every summer. "Football is BACK!" I scream. "Surely this won't be boring!" I yell. "I can't wait to see a bunch of guys get told they're being cut for the millionth time!" I cheer. In reality, it's been, shall we say, "blah" ever since the New York Jets season in 2010, which featured the greatest moment in the history of the show in Rex Ryan saying "let's go eat a G--damn snack," and that's not up for debate.

So on Tuesday night, I obviously tuned in to episode one of "Hard Knocks" with the Detroit Lions, featuring legendary quote Dan Campbell and his lovable 3-13-1 squad from 2021. This "Hard Knocks" would almost certainly be different, right? I'm thrilled to report it was, instantly cementing itself as one of the better opening episodes in the show's history. Five moments truly stood out from the nearly hour-long episode, and we've ranked them below. 

5. The Jamaal Williams "let the big dawgs eat" speech

We may have already covered the Williams speech on Tuesday morning, as HBO dropped a preview for episode one featuring the running back's impassioned plea for more effort from his team after a bad practice. However, that was only a sampling of what Williams said, the full version being unveiled during the premiere. It ran a little long and at times it seemed like Williams had no idea where it was going, but then he dropped the "if you're gonna piss like a puppy, stay on the porch and LET THE BIG DAWGS EAT" line and everyone watching grabbed the nearest helmet and ran directly through the nearest wall:

You have to seriously deliver on a speech to be as chills-inducing as Dan Campbell (more on this in a moment). Quality, quality stuff from Jamaal.  

4. Dan Campbell doing up-downs with the team, nearly dying

The full clip has not hit the ol' internet yet, but you'll be able to watch it in its entirety if you have HBO. Essentially, Campbell decided he was going to join his team in a round of "up downs" for practice one day, and it sure as hell seemed like they all did 100 in a row, Campbell included. The camera zoned in on him the entire time, and the former first-team, all-grit tight end didn't miss a beat. What we didn't know until afterward was that he damn near broke his wrist in his house earlier that week, then taped said wrist up for practice (he's the head coach, mind you) just to do the up-downs. Someone at that Lions practice did capture this great incognito video of the mad man at work:

Campbell was doing some serious huffing and puffing after, but the message was sent - if you're going to tell these guys to give 110 percent at all times, you better be prepared to do the same. Some might call it overkill, some might say he should be circling the team and making sure everyone is giving effort, but Campbell leads by example. If everyone sees the head coach doing 100 up downs and until he can't breathe, how can you not follow suit? Campbell's whole philosophy revolves around making the other team submit, playing every play like it's your last. I'd be more surprised if he didn't do the up downs. 

3. Dan Campbell's opening speech

Obviously, the first episode was loaded with great Campbell moments and quotes, but the very first speech, which opens the premiere, legitimately made me emotional. Again, to watch the full speech, you'll have to fire up HBO, but some of the highlights are below: 

The best part was when Campbell began his ocean metaphor, in which he explained that there are a lot of NFL teams that just want to dip their toe in the water, then there are a few who will go out a little further, and then there are a very select few who will drag out the other teams and effing DROWN them. When he first started the metaphor, my eyes rolled a bit, but when he got to the drowning part I was ready for war. Who wouldn't want to play for this guy? Spare me the clock management sh-t and all the Xs and Os garbage. Plenty of great Xs and Os guys, historically, had no idea how to lead a team when they finally earned a head coaching job. Campbell can clearly lead and motivate, and if he surrounds himself with other great coaches, there's no reason it can't work out for him in Detroit (I sincerely hope it does).

2. Duce Staley vs. Aaron Glenn

If not for the top moment of the night (coming up), the Duce Staley-Aaron Glenn rivalry/friendship would have by far been the best moment of episode one. The two former NFLers, Staley a running back for the Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers, Glenn a cornerback best known for his time with the New York Jets, are now co-workers on the Lions staff. They're also great friends, but the fiery competitor in each of them came out during one practice, Staley on the offensive side of the staff and Glenn the defensive coordinator. The trash talk during a offense vs. defense period was out of control, reminiscent of two fifth graders going at it over a game of Madden: 

That was just a small portion of what the episode showed, and the trash-talking session in its entirety made me want a full hour of just Staley vs. Glenn. The vultures line was absolutely perfect. Campbell watching in the background and allowing these two to go at it is awesome, too. Next week, we need way more Duce vs. AG. 

1. Aidan Hutchinson's performance of "Billie Jean"

Presented without comment:

What this clip doesn't show is Hutchinson completely bungling the opening line of the song on the first try, and appearing to be so embarrassed that he might not actually be able to get through it. After some encouragement from his teammates, he went for it again and absolutely nailed try No. 2. It seemed very cringe at first and then when the whole team got into it, it instantly vaulted into a top-five "Hard Knocks" moment ever. If he can handle that, there's no reason he can't handle a massive 3rd-and-7 situation in the fourth quarter against the Green Bay Packers. Serious guts from this Michigan Man.