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'Hard Knocks' revisited: Best of NFL's summer drama

  • By Around The NFL staff
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The NFL announced Wednesday that the Los Angeles Rams will serve as the focal point for the 11th season of Hard Knocks, NFL Films' acclaimed documentary series on life in training camp.

As the Rams gear up for their Hollywood star turn, let's take a look back at some of the greatest moments in the first 10 seasons of the HBO mainstay.

Here's the scene from last summer that people probably remember most. J.J. Watt alone in the darkness, working on his craft long after teammates had retired to the locker room. Was this a peek into the ceaseless work ethic of a transcendent talent -- or a shameless play to the cameras? We'll never know ... and we're too afraid to ask.

The Baltimore Ravens' rookies set the bar extremely high in Season 1 for the annual rookie talent competition. We think of this every time we hear the word "restitution."

Three words: King Ugly competition.

There is a ton of comedy in Hard Knocks, intentional and otherwise, but the genius of the show often comes when the viewer gets to be a fly on the wall for a true football moment. The exchange between Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland and cornerback Vontae Davis when Davis gets traded stands out.

Chad Ochocinco's awkward, post-arrest release from the team also comes to mind. In what other "reality" show do you see a highly successful, high-profile career essentially end on camera?

Watt had a striking cameo in Season 9, dominating rookie tackle Jake Matthews in an intrasquad scrimmage. NFL Films gave us an up-close look at Watt's freakish combination of speed, strength and quickness, which made Matthews -- the sixth overall pick in the 2014 Draft -- look like a fan who won a contest to get on the field.

Without Hard Knocks we'd never know that the NFL has its very own version of 80s movie super villain Billy Zabka and his name is Brian Cushing.

"Don't ever push me extra like that. First of all, you're not going to block me. Second of all, you don't want to fight me. Third of all (gears grinding ... searching ... spinning beach ball) ... I'm the man."

In 2010, owner Woody Johnson wanted the New York Jets to become a national team. Taking over Hard Knocks did the trick. Episodes such as the one that featured holdout cornerback Darrelle Revis' secret meeting with the Jets at the Roscoe Diner made national news. (And ultimately made Revis very rich.)

The Kansas City Chiefs' Hard Knocks season seems to get lost in the shuffle. A few very attractive wives (October Gonzalez, Kelli Croyle) got a lot of attention, but it was another budding romance that stole the stage.

Also during the Chiefs' season: The all-time favorite Hard Knocks moment for Gregg Rosenthal's wife. The reactions are the key. Bernard Pollard, take it away:

The Dallas Cowboys' season of Hard Knocks shaped up to be a doozy with Jerry Jones, Terrell Owens, Adam "Pacman" Jones, Tony Romo and company. It surprisingly fell flat, at least in comparison to other seasons. The latter Jones did his best to keep us entertained.

Ryan Tannehill is known for his football smarts. He is not known for his NFL divisional knowledge.

We watch every season of Hard Knocks knowing that the turk is coming to cut a player. And yet it is always affecting, often heartbreaking when he shows up. Putting together a montage of the cuts is too depressing, but one other tough moment stuck out: The season-ending injury to a Cincinnati Bengals tight end in the Bengals' 2009 camp.

This was a pro's pro, accepting a cruel fate, while the team around him had no choice but to move on.

There are also the heartwarming stories, like when Tyler Starr -- the 255th pick in the 2014 Draft -- got the call from Falcons coach Mike Smith telling him he'd beaten the odds to make the final 53-man roster. Goosebumps alert.

Marvin Lewis' tirade after a preseason loss goes down as the scariest speech in Hard Knocks history. But Rex Ryan's speech in 2010 had the better closer. Wow them in the end, and you've got a hit.

Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson on Vince Wilfork's instantly iconic overalls: "You had to get that special made. I haven't seen the shorts like that in a while ... except for on babies."

And finally, Antonio Cromartie's family tree.


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