At least Brown’s offseason exit from the Pittsburgh Steelers was brought up, although Episode 1 could certainly have also benefited from a little more on the drama that unfolded as he forced his way off the team he represented in seven Pro Bowls.
As it was, viewers were left to rely on their own knowledge of the bad blood that reportedly erupted between Brown and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger at the end of last season. That background lent an amusing layer to an exchange early in the episode between Brown and his children, one of whom asked him while seated near the practice field, “Where’s Roethlisberger?”
“We don’t play with Roethlisberger no more. We play with the Raiders,” Brown replied. “We play with Derek Carr. That’s my quarterback.”
Brown then asked his kids for the name of his new quarterback. He got back, “Derek Carter?”
That discussion began with one of Brown’s sons asking him why he wasn’t “running today.” The 31-year-old Brown replied, “Because Daddy’s still sore.”
Foot woes landed Brown on the non-football injury list to start the Raiders’ training camp. He was cleared to practice after passing a physical examination July 28, but he later posted stomach-turning footage of his feet, the bottoms of which were marred by discolored and peeling skin.
On Tuesday, Chris Simms of Pro Football Talk was reported to have gotten word from someone with knowledge of the situation that Brown “burned his feet by entering a cryotherapy machine without the proper footwear.”
Holy frostbite, Batman! Unfortunately, those tuning into “Hard Knocks” hoping to hear more about that came away disappointed, but if the rumor about Brown’s feet gets some legs this week — or if another, similarly insane explanation arises — HBO might well choose to include some mention of it in Episode 2.
That could help draw viewers back to the program, because even apart from the lack of cryotherapy talk, Episode 1 was more notable for what wasn’t mentioned, at least in detail, than for what was featured.
For example, viewers were told only that offensive lineman Richie Incognito was under “scrutiny” for an “ugly” history, and that he went unsigned in 2014, didn’t play at all last year and was starting this season on a two-game suspension.
Just to fill in the gaps a bit, Incognito was: a) essentially shunned by the league in 2014 after having a central, and highly unsavory, role in a bullying scandal while with the Miami Dolphins; b) cut by the Buffalo Bills after announcing his retirement in April 2018 (saying at the time that his “liver and kidneys are shutting down"), then un-retiring but failing to attend offseason workouts; c) taken into custody in May of that year and sent for an involuntary psychiatric evaluation after an incident at a Florida fitness center; and d) charged with threats and disorderly conduct in August 2018 after an incident in a Scottsdale, Ariz., funeral home following the death of his father.
Those last two items would explain the two-game suspension, but all “Hard Knocks” viewers saw was footage of Incognito telling reporters at the Raiders’ facility that after “setbacks” and “some dark days,” he was bringing to his new team “the best version of myself right now.”
Oh, and Incognito was also shown expressing excitement at the sight of Guy Fieri at a Raiders practice, calling the chef “my guy.” That was one of two celebrity appearances at training camp in Episode 1; the other involved rapper G-Eazy proclaiming that the addition of Brown might propel Oakland to a 10-6 season.
Speaking of Oakland, viewers saw shots of adoring fans at camp but didn’t hear much about the fact that this is set to be the Raiders’ final season in the Bay Area before moving to Las Vegas. It might have been interesting to see someone dressed in, say, Darth Vader garb talk about how he felt about the relocation.
Not surprisingly, viewers did see plenty of Coach Jon Gruden and quarterback Derek Carr. Gruden got the show off to a hard-edge start by telling a group of players: “I’m really not into dreams anymore, okay? I’m into [bleeping] nightmares. … You got to end somebody’s dream. You got to take their job. You got to take their heart.”
At another point, Gruden offered this pointed rejoinder to some defensive players who griped about NFL rules favoring offenses: “There’s other leagues, you know. There’s a new league forming, if you guys want to go knock the [expletive] out of each other for $800 a week.”
The more mild-mannered Carr didn’t have anything nearly as noteworthy to say, but “Hard Knocks” took a shot at a viral moment by showing other players commenting on his arms, which were glistening with what he said was simply sunscreen, not baby oil. “I’m a dad now — if I could, I’d put a little white stuff on my nose,” the quarterback replied. (It almost sounded like “up my nose.” Almost.)
Other Raiders featured in Episode 1 included Johnathan Abram, one of the team’s first-round draft picks, whose talkative nature, as well as aggressive on-field tendencies, clearly caught the attention of “Hard Knocks” producers. His highlight, from an entertainment perspective, came when he expressed befuddlement at being told the 'L' in “salmon” was not sounded when pronouncing the word.
Among the staples of “Hard Knocks” is showing the against-the-odds journey of an unheralded player, and this time it was Ronald Ollie, an undrafted rookie familiar to some viewers for his involvement in the first season of Netflix’s “Last Chance U.”
Ollie was able to parlay his 2015 stint at East Mississippi Community College into a spot on Nicholls State’s football team, but an injury and a missed treatment session spelled his doom with Gruden, who was shown yelling, “You know what? Let’s get some of these [expletive] guys out of here that don’t want to play. If we’re not going to listen to the trainer, who are we going to listen to?”
Gruden, who spent a decade in the “Monday Night Football” booth, could have been expected to provide HBO with some juicy sound bites, and he delivered, particularly as compared to the rest of the cast. As such, another puzzling omission from Episode 1 was the relative lack of screen time for Raiders General Manager Mike Mayock, who honed his own on-air skills as a longtime analyst for NFL Network.
As for Brown, the show smartly abstained from showing his feet but did take advantage of the attractive visuals that accompanied his hot-air balloon ride to training camp. Unfortunately, the wide receiver couldn’t quite stick the landing with the Muhammad Ali-inspired one-liner he prepared for the moment.
“Floating like a butterfly, getting ready to sting like A.B.,” he said with a smile. Brown then felt compelled to clarify, “Not like ‘a bee’ but, like, A.B."