"Hard Knocks" is back.
And not a moment too soon. After a two-year lockout-induced hiatus, the acclaimed HBO documentary series returned Tuesday night for a seventh season.
As I've stated often on Around The League, "Hard Knocks" is -- without a doubt -- the greatest football program in the history of the television medium. High praise, but there's nothing remotely like it, both in production value and the access it gives NFL fans.
The triumphant return of "Hard Knocks" slow motion
This series has a masterful way of using slo-mo to find beauty in ordinary things. Testing the audience's limits, it even had a shot of a Dolphins employee painting a floor at team facilities. This was literally watching paint dry. And it was great.
Did anybody else notice ...
David Garrard wakeboarding behind a powerful motorboat as the narrator reminded viewers of the major back surgery that cost the quarterback his 2011 season? The Dolphins clearly forgot to add the "Needlessly Dangerous Aquatic Adventures" clause to his contract.
Did you have 9 minutes in the Lauren Tannehill office pool?
That's how long "Hard Knocks" producers were able to hold out before Ryan Tannehill's attractive blonde wife made her first appearance. My prediction that the Tannehills go house-hunting in Episode 2 still stands.
Did you know?
The excellent narrator of "Hard Knocks" is actor Liev Schreiber. So to all you people shouting, "Hey, that's Cotton Weary from Scream!" at your television ... yes, you're right.
The inside baseball of football
"Hard Knocks" takes us inside the business aspect of the NFL that we ordinarily aren't privy to as fans. Case in point: From the outside, Tannehill's contract negotiations appeared to be a relatively rote exercise.
Darlington: 'Hard Knocks' primer
Aponte: I expressed to him that where we sit at the moment, based on both our positions, Ryan will not be a Miami Dolphin this year.
Philbin: You told him that?
Aponte: Yes. He'll go back into the draft.
Philbin: And what did he say to that?
Aponte: He's prepared to do it. I think the only one who makes this decision is Ryan.
Tannehill was in uniform by the third day of camp, and now we know the cutthroat bargaining that helped make that happen.
It's a "Hard Knocks" life
Poor Derek Dennis. Not only did the rookie offensive guard get cut before the first practice of training camp, he had to go home with stupid orange bleach marks in his beard. This will be the subject of the saddest Coldplay song ever.
Chad Johnson knows how to make an entrance
Johnson wanders into a coaches-only meeting, mutters something about his wife not wanting to see him, then slowly -- I mean slowwwllly -- realizes he isn't welcome as everyone else in the room shoots "WTF?" glances at each other.
Hey! That's Braylon Edwards' music!
In one of the more awkward moments of the premiere -- and one that shows the amazing transparency of "Hard Knocks" -- Edwards defends his character to general manager Jeff Ireland with a boom mic two feet above his head. We're sure he was thrilled about that development.
A nice start for Philbin
The Dolphins coach doesn't possess the charisma that sent Ryan into the stratosphere in 2010, but Philbin spends Episode 1 looking like a smart, diligent coach who's able to effectively communicate with his players.
I was particularly fascinated by Philbin's practice method of having two sets of competing units work toward opposite end zones. The coaches watch one side run a play, then turn around and watch the other side go to work. It's Coughlinesque military precision that allows the Dolphins to run more plays per minute than any team in the league.
Speaking of Philbin and Johnson ...
We got a great behind-the-scenes look at how Philbin handled Johnson's profanity-laced first press conference with the Miami media. Johnson was clearly testing his limits, and Philbin put him in his place.
The message was clear: You can be Chad Johnson, but don't bring that Ochocinco crap around here. (We'll have another Johnson "Hard Knocks" post on Wednesday. Just too much madness for one space.)
The gratuitious "Cheerleaders Limbering Up" interstitial
Did you see that? Me, too.
Again, we love this behind-the-scenes stuff ...
"In no way is this competition over," Philbin told the quarterbacks after dropping into a meeting. "This is a reflection of what's gone on up to this point in time at training camp. Our minds are not made up at all. I hope you know, if you have a problem with that you should talk to (assistant quarterbacks coach) Zac (Taylor) about it, talk to Sherm (offensive coordinator Mike Sherman) about it, talk to me about it."
Just a cool thing to watch, not to mention visual proof that Moore's head didn't explode when he found out that going 6-3 to end last season, plus receiving the owner's blessing, probably won't be enough to keep his job.
And there you have it. To quote coach Philbin, "I got to leave on a high note like George Costanza."