The New York Jets made it clear all offseason they did not want to be featured on “Hard Knocks.” They were chosen for the HBO series anyway. And now, after five episodes, the season is over.
Tuesday’s final episode, even more than others, made at least one thing clear: The Jets did not want HBO to show much of them behind the scenes.
General manager Joe Douglas appeared for just the first time in the series, to tell a few players they had made the team. The Jets didn’t allow cameras to film players being told they were being cut.
Still, there were plenty of entertaining moments throughout the series. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was part of many of them, including Tuesday, when he spoke about UFOs.
Here are our final takeaways from “Hard Knocks.”
Episode 5, in summary
This week’s episode led with the most heart-wrenching part of training camp: When NFL teams have to cut their rosters from 90 players to 53. Older iterations of the show used to include the moment the players found out their fates, but the Jets objected to showing that. After the roster cutdown segment, the rest of the episode focused mostly on off-the-field things: a tale about a long hallway in the Jets’ facility, Rodgers’ relationship with an old college teammate and a trip to Broadway made by Rodgers and a handful of teammates.
Best Aaron Rodgers moment
It started with Rodgers telling a security guard to bring his college teammate and close friend Steve Levy down from the stands. That’s when Rodgers started talking, at length, about a time he and Levy believed they saw a UFO in the sky.
It was in 2005, around the time Rodgers was heading to the NFL Draft. Rodgers said he had dinner at Levy’s house in New Jersey. In the middle of the night, he heard an “alarm” in the distance, so he went outside with Levy and his brother.
“In the clouds, we heard this sound,” Rodgers said. “We saw this tremendously large object moving through the sky. … It was like a scene out of ‘Independence Day.’”
“Did we just see what we think we just saw?”
Aaron Rodgers details a UFO sighting 🛸
— NFL (@NFL) September 6, 2023
Rodgers said the three of them stood frozen, and 30 seconds later heard the distinct sound of fighter jets, which “seemed to be chasing this object.” He said the three of them “just stood there in disbelief for another few minutes. Nobody said a word and we all kind of looked at each other, like: Did we just see what we think we just saw?”
Rodgers remains convinced it was a UFO.
Even though HBO didn’t go behind the scenes with players as much as it usually does, this season was undeniably helped out by Rodgers’ presence. He was more than willing to be an active participant in the production — and became the overall true star of the show.
(Other) stars of the show
Similar to last week: undrafted rookie wide receivers Jason Brownlee and Xavier Gipson, and defensive tackle Tanzel Smart.
HBO showed the moments when Gipson and Brownlee found out they had made the team, as Douglas slyly carried a tone that seemed to indicate he was about to cut them. It was cool to see Gipson and Brownlee celebrate with wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni, and for Rodgers to rave about them in an interview with producers, saying: “I’m really proud of both of those guys. Those are the guys you pull for. … They came in with a plan, with purpose, and the growth we saw from those guys was spectacular.”
— NFL Films (@NFLFilms) September 6, 2023
Smart, on the other hand, was cut. The cameras didn’t show the moment, but they did show the aftermath: Smart spoke about the brutal part of this business, getting cut even though he felt like he deserved to stick. He eventually came back on the practice squad.
HBO also went home with rookie running back Israel Abanikanda and showed him spending time with his parents, who immigrated from Nigeria before he was born.
After a week off from motivational Robert Saleh speeches, Tuesday’s episode had one from the head coach about climbing Mount Everest. The best part came after the Mount Everest portion, though. That’s when Saleh said one of his “biggest pet peeves” as a coach was being part of teams that weren’t doing well, and having an opposing coach walk up and say: “Man, you guys play hard.”
“I don’t want to play hard, I want to f— you up,” Saleh said. “Nobody is talking about how we play hard anymore. They hate you. And that’s what we want.”
Aaron Rodgers takeaways: QB talks team chemistry and Jets’ Super Bowl chances
Funniest moment or quote
A group of Jets took a trip to Broadway to see “MJ the Musical.” The group included the three Broadway aficionados — C.J. Uzomah, Solomon Thomas and Rodgers — along with Zach Wilson, Randall Cobb, Tyler Conklin, Tim Boyle, John Franklin-Myers, Michael Carter II, Smart and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. After the show, the team met the cast and one of the actors tried to teach Thomas how to moonwalk.
At a practice after that experience, Cobb told Wilson that wide receiver Garrett Wilson reminded him of the actor who played Michael Jackson, because of the way he moved his body. Wilson relayed the message to Hackett. Everyone laughed.
The actual funniest moment, though: Micheal Clemons walking up to Sauce Gardner on his birthday, grabbing him by the jersey, pulling him close and saying, with intimidation in his voice: “Happy birthday, bro. I hope you have a great f—ing day.”
My final conclusion from “Hard Knocks”: There was not enough Micheal Clemons.
(Photo: Dustin Satloff / Getty Images)
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