Any doubt about who the star of this year's edition of "Hard Knocks" was going to be ended about 30 seconds into the premiere episode when Rex Ryan wished his players well during the short break between the end of offseason training activities and the start of training camp.
"No matter what you're doing, it will be better than my f---ing vacation. I'm cruising the Baltics with my in-laws and s---."
Ryan was just getting warmed up on a night that will leave everyone watching firmly in one of two camps. Either you'll love Ryan's brashness -- "If we play at our best, we will beat every f---ing team in this league at their best." -- and humor -- "Does it matter that Revis isn't here? Goddamn, he's pretty fucking good." -- or you'll find him to be a foul-mouthed blowhard who you will root against with the force of a thousand suns. That's the risk you take when you look into the camera and say things like this.
"The best place to be is where the expectations are high. We know we're better than you. We don't give a f--- if you know it or not."
The hour was heavy on Ryan. We saw him lunching with Woody Johnson on a terrace outside his office. We saw him snacking on chocolate, cheese and pretzels until he had to pay a fine to the team's kangaroo court. The fines escalate so the U.S. government should probably tax that money and settle this fiscal crisis in no time. We also saw him doing bed checks, including a little wistful humor when he got to Darrelle Revis's empty room.
Revis, even in his absence, was the other star of the episode. The highlight was Mike Tannenbaum's solemn ride back from the Roscoe Diner and the now fateful meeting with Revis's agent that led to all kinds of sniping in the press over the last few days. Anyone fearful of Revis being absent for the entire season will find fuel for that fire in Tannenbaum's words on the way back from the meeting.
"They havent said one thing I agree with at all. We're so freakin far apart that I feel like a failure. ... I wish I had another card to play here. In good conscience, why don't we move on and try again next year."
The most interesting behind the scenes moment on this front was an earlier conversation between Tannenbaum and Neil Schwartz, Revis's agent. He tells Schwartz that the team won't do any talkng in the press about the negotiations and hangs up with a smile and some encouraging words to Johnson about where things are in the negotiations. That died pretty quickly, though, and the diner meeting that lives in infamy is probably the reason why.
Other than Ryan and Revis, the first episode was pretty much what you'd expect it to be. There were the familiar "Hard Knocks" tropes of longshot rookies, veterans looking for one more year in the sun, a little family time and some smatterings of football action. Here are the highs and lows from the first week of "Hard Knocks."
High: Bart Scott calling Mark Sanchez "Nacho." Someone's been reading Kissing Suzy Kolber, although if you want to read it it is probably best left for non-working hours.
Low: Watching the Jets fail to score on several plays from the one-yard line shortly before a long segment heaping praise on the Jets fullbacks. Editing fail.
High: Watching Tannenbaum attempt to field punts is high comedy.
Low: A subplot about an assistant coach hiding suntan oil felt more than a little bit forced thanks to the pastiness of Jeff Weeks's skin.
High/Low: The cameras caught Joe Namath's visit and the man looked fairly ridiculous by pairing a white polo with collar up underneath a green Jets t-shirt with a pair of white striped shorts hiked up to his chin. That said, he's Broadway Joe and who are we to argue with his take on style?
Low: Watching the scenes where Kevin Basped and Aaron Kia get cut. You can actually pinpoint the moment where their childhood dreams go up in smoke. And the offer to help find work in the UFL? Ouch.
Quote of the Week (Non-Ryan Division): Upon finishing an intense workout involving tires, Antonio Cromartie wins the prize by saying, "I got to go through all this just to provide for the family." When you've got seven kids in five states, providing for the family is not a job for the weak.