EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a recap by News Herald sports editor Mitch Lucas of the first episode of the HBO series “Hard Knocks: The Dallas Cowboys,” as cameras follow the Cowboys throughout the preseason, all aspects of the team including the players, coaches, practices, meeting and locker rooms, and even owner Jerry Jones. The five-episode series airs each Tuesday on HBO, and can be streamed on HBO Max. Episode two will air next Tuesday, Aug. 17. Here’s the recap of the first show.
Full disclosure: I’ve never seen an episode of “Hard Knocks.” I’ve read about it, and I’m aware that few teams volunteer for it. So this should be fun.
Well, not so much – not early on.
The show begins with a sit-down with quarterback Dak Prescott, re-living his ankle injury last season, which he points out came only a few months after the suicide of his brother.
This is powerful, and more importantly, the footage of Prescott’s ankle injury – and I don’t mean the edited footage, but the raw NFL Films footage of the injury is shown without a single disclaimer. You’re watching and then BAM! Prescott is on the ground and his ankle is turned backwards. I’m sorry to describe it like that. But if injuries like this bother you, you should just fast-forward past the entire Prescott interview. You’re missing his thoughts on the injury and rehab, but it’s worth it to avoid the visual of the ankle turned the wrong way.
Immediate observations: Prescott comes off very likeable, driven to return to his regular physical self prior to the injury. … Receiver CeeDee Lamb, starting his second season, is a character. He’s like a younger (much) thinner Deion Sanders, only as an offensive player. He comes off as obnoxious, but clearly seems to be a good-natured kid. …Rookie linebacker Micah Parsons has a lot to learn, but on the field, he looks to be every bit as good as advertised.
After the interview with Prescott, we see a flood of fans pouring into the gates to watch camp. An announcer tells campers it’s the 67th camp in Cowboys history, and the 15th in Oxnard, Calif.
Parsons sums it all up with a “It’s time to play some football” quip as the team runs onto the field for practice drills.
Running back Ezekiel Elliott makes a catch and scores, and then celebrates with Prescott, with Prescott shown performing a little stand-pat dance that I hope to never see again.
“We’ve got a lot to clean up, that’s for sure,” head coach Mike McCarthy tells an assistant, although we don’t really see what he was looking at when he said it.
“We’re back,” said owner Jerry Jones to an audience of media, into a small microphone, sitting at a Cowboys-blue table under a canopy, with McCarthy sitting right beside him. “Here we are. We’re back to business. We’re back to training camp, getting this team ready to play.
“I would, right now, if I could, and I knew we had a good chance to do it, I’d do anything known to man to get in a Super Bowl. That’s a fact. And I feel as driven as I was when we first bought the team, and I was scared to death then, and I’m scared to death now. …I’ve had a lot of people tell me ‘You’re naïve.’ Well, it’s a better world to be naïve than to be skeptical and negative all the time.”
Jones’ voice breaks a bit, and he continues.
“The thing that means the most to me, and that I care about, is that I could probably be anywhere in the world, that I wanted to be right now. I want to be here. With our team.”
I didn’t expect a narrator, but we get one, who explains the Cowboys have became the NFL’s most valuable franchise, with three Super Bowl titles. But he also correctly points out that it’s been 26 years since the most recent one.
And that there’s at least some doubt that Prescott can come back 100 percent after the ankle injury.
We then get footage of Prescott dropping back and completing various throws into a net during camp, and then to receivers. He looks to the untrained eye, at least, to be moving fine on his dropbacks and roll-outs.
Prescott gets his workload limited after the first day of camp, and ends up with a strained shoulder.
At one point, he’s shown shrugging his shoulders, kneeling as he watches other players get reps.
“I sat out enough,” he’s overheard telling a trainer. “I’ll let y’all know if I’m (bleeping) sore.”
We move on from there to Elliott, who has noticeably dropped some weight (about 20 pounds).
Elliott sits down – in what looks to be a hotel room or an apartment – with an off-screen reporter, and talks about his friendship with Prescott. He reveals Prescott got him a diamond bracelet for his birthday, as he’s wrapping a gift (presumably) for Prescott, watching a YouTube video on how to wrap gifts.
“I don’t think this is helping me much,” he notes. “I’ll just wing it.”
The box is fairly big, and at least at this point in the show, we’re not told what it is. We do see, however, that Elliott is at least a capable gift-wrapper, complete with blue and white bows.
A knock at the door. It’s Prescott, with a smile. “What are you doing?” Elliott exclaims, and slams the door. “You’re trying to ruin the surprise!”
Back to the field. McCarthy is on the sidelines, having a conversation with a sunglass-wearing, cap-wearing Stephen Jones.
“Do we feel like he’s in good shape?,” Jones asked.
“He’s in good shape,” McCarthy notes, “much better than he was last year.”
Footage is shown of Elliott from last season, but not good footage: fumbles and not happy times.
“It’s my job to make sure I don’t fumble it,” Elliott says, from a podium. “ Tons of footage is shown of him not only taking hand-offs and getting through defenders, but also making catch after catch.
“Easy money!,” Elliott hollers, as he gets into the end zone.
We see Elliott come out into a parking lot, and “steal” Prescott’s bike – like leaving on it, from the parking lot. Prescott laughs it off, as we’re serenaded by Mungo Jerry’s 1970 hit “In the Summertime.”
Back to work, in the film room, the team meeting room, and then back on the field, where we hear McCarthy tell an assistant, “Isn’t it amazing how everything changes when we put the pads on?”
Prescott is shown on several routine short throws to Elliott, and then being looked at by a trainer – his throwing arm. “Going to have to take Dak out,” the trainer tells McCarthy. “It’s a strain. …It’s not his bicep or his tricep. …I don’t want to overanalyze it out here.”
McCarthy approaches Prescott.
“What do you think it is?,” he asks.
“Oh, It’s a strain,” he agrees.
The focus shifts to rookie Micah Parsons, horsing around and laughing with teammates during warm-ups.
The first-round pick from Penn State looks like a cat in a room full of rocking chairs, bouncing around on the sidelines.
“You know what? I’m just going to go be a football player,” Parsons says, with his helmet off, to teammates.
Parsons is the focus of some footage, in which we see him wrap up Elliott for a loss, then tell a running back, “You’re going to need more than a shoulder to slow me down.”
He’s shown faking a blitz, then dropping back into coverage and making an interception, not of Prescott, who’s already been pulled out.
First-year defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, once the DC at Seattle during their Super Bowl seasons, then the head coach in Atlanta, is shown giving Parsons tips. But Parsons is worried about something far more human.
“Man, I’m so hungry,” he tells a teammate, talking about different types of snacks. But then he turns it into an analogy. “…The lion… the lion is always hungry.”
Back to McCarthy and Prescott.
“I appreciate you want to be out here,” the coach said. “But we’ve got to see what we’ve got.”
Prescott walks by Elliott. “Where are you going?,” Elliott asks. “I’m ‘bout to go get some treatment on this arm.” He slow-walks off the sidelines and out of practice.
To McCarthy’s office. An unidentified trainer says Prescott has been added to the injury list.
Jerry Jones is shown at a desk, in warm-up gear and Cowboys hat, a cluttered desk, having a speaker-phone conversation with a trainer about Prescott. The trainer notes he spoke with trainers from the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees, who see similar injuries often, and that they’ve talked about having restraint. And Jones appears to be eating a breakfast sandwich.
“Thank goodness we’ve got the ability to hold him back,” Jones tells the trainer. “…I’m going to let you go to work.”
He ends the phone call, and grabs the salt.
Next day, morning meeting. McCarthy is in front of the room, joking about – really – Austin Powers, and even shows a clip from the Michael Myers film.
He puts a clip on the overhead projector (yes, an overhead projector in 2021). It says, “Mojo Moment.”
“When it’s time for additional confidence, charisma and performance, no matter the time, the place, the situation. Kick in your mojo.”
Back to the sidelines. “Do I smell a mojo moment?,” McCarthy asks an assistant, with a laugh, as he gets everybody on the field, the starters. Offense vs. defense.
Cooper Rush replaces Prescott as the QB.
He passes, incomplete, caught by someone off the field. He passes, a great one-handed leaping catch by Lamb – dare I say, a mojo moment?
“Just another way of emphasizing the momentum changes in a game,” McCarthy is shown, saying in a meeting room to reporters. “And anytime you have a chance to use a Michael Myers clip, you should do it.”
Back to the field, where he’s standing by Prescott.
“See what you’re missing?,” McCarthy says to his QB. “It’s a mojo moment.”
Prescott isn’t allowed, under doctors’ orders, to make as the narrator says, “a single throw.”
McCarthy is shown talking with Jerry Jones, giving him an update.
Jones, wearing cap and sweatsuit, nods and trots off the field.
The crowd is shown singing Happy Birthday to Dak, who is presented with a cake, with yellow frosting – and is promptly smacked in the face with it.
He tries to rub some on others, and eventually concedes and eats a bite – off his face. “It does taste good,” he says.
To the meeting room. Prescott unwraps his 28th birthday gift, the one wrapped by Elliott: a metallic travel bag, colored Cowboys blue.
The rest of the Cowboys head to Canton, Ohio, and Prescott stays behind.
McCarthy is in front of the team, presumably in a meeting room in Canton, prepping for the preseason game last week against Pittsburgh. He talks about family and football.
“You’ve seen the schedule. Four preseason games, 17 regular season games, and then the tournament. And that’s what this thing is all about. …This is about winning. It’s about winning a world championship. Period. Going to the playoffs ain’t good enough. Having a winning season ain’t good enough. Having a winning record ain’t good enough.
“It takes 77 men to win a world championship. That’s just the way it (bleeping) goes.”
After a brief throwback of McCarthy coaching the Green Bay Packers to a Super Bowl title, we’re back to the present, and McCarthy greeting family members right before the preseason hall of fame game against the Steelers – his childhood team.
We join the sidelines, and Parsons is holding court. He wears jersey number 11.
“This looks good on me,” he laughs.
McCarthy is shown talking with Peyton Manning, and then coaching.
“That’s why we have preseason,” McCarthy said. “We’ve got to figure it out.”
Quinn is shown in the press box, and Parsons’ mom in the stands.
Parsons makes an immediate impact, running a few Pittsburgh offensive players out of bounds, and then recovering a first-quarter fumble. He celebrates with teammates, then runs back to the sidelines, where he gets a handshake from Lamb.
“I’m gonna call Nike up,” Lamb says, laughing. “You’re gonna make all the plays, you’ve gotta look the part.”
Into the locker room for halftime. “You got any oranges left?,” Parsons hollers out.
He eats his orange as Quinn drops F-bombs during the halftime meeting.
The first episode concludes with footage from the preseason game, and the narrator. “A hope that this season, the ‘Boys are back.”
As the credits roll, we see Elliott returning to his room, then Prescott talking about fans watching the practice field from apartment windows. “We’ve got spies,” he laughs.