The season finale of Hard Knocks always shows the process of an NFL team trimming its preseason roster to 53 players, but this season was even more brutal. A new rule introduced prior to this season allowed teams to keep 90 players up until the very end of the preseason, meaning the Buccaneers parted ways with 37 players over a two-day stretch, a draining task from a logistical and emotional perspective. General manager Jason Licht claimed the situation was worse than having to drive across the country with Skip Bayless in a car with no radio, the heat on, and a wiper that scrapes across the windshield.
I’m going to disagree. Licht survives the cutdown period. I don’t think a human could handle several days in a confined space alone with Bayless. It’s not even that Bayless’s sports opinions are that bad—although often, they are very bad—it’s just that Bayless is perhaps the most talented irritant on the planet. He’s become a multimillionaire by coming up with sports opinions that upset viewers so viscerally that they choose to continue watching his program. If you were in a car with him for multiple days, he’d make it his personal mission to get you to bail by Nebraska. He’d access annoyance hubs in your brain you didn’t even know existed.
—The actual cutdowns weren’t as dramatic as I’d thought they would be: The show’s previous episodes had done a pretty good job of establishing which of the show’s featured players were not going to make the roster. (Apologies to Riley Bullough, whose ”intangibles” sadly did not allow him to overcome the fact that other linebackers were better at football than he was.)
The episode’s most interesting moments were about players who were cut, but were given the opportunity to join the team’s practice squad. Bobo Wilson, an undrafted wide receiver, drove to his home in Miami on cut day, leaving the team unsure whether he actually wanted to be a part of the practice squad. And Jeremy McNichols, a fifth-round draft pick who played his way out of a roster spot, waffled on the Bucs’ offer after receiving an identical offer from the 49ers. Eventually, Wilson responded to an ultimatum to be at the team’s practice facility by a certain time or be off the team, and McNichols decided to join the Niners to get a fresh start.
I thought the drama and suspense of the episode would come from the decisive moments when players’ NFL futures were decided. Instead, it came from indecision, the curious limbo of the league’s practice squads. Finding out whether you’re accepted or denied is a simple, relatable binary; but there’s complexity in being told you’re wanted, but not enough for the team to play (or pay) you like a real player.
—Gerald McCoy was the breakout star of this show. He can’t be a breakout star in football, even though he’s very good at football—he was the no. 3 pick in the NFL draft in 2010, he’s made five Pro Bowls in seven seasons, he’s easily one of the best defensive tackles in the entire NFL—because he’s a defensive tackle. It’s hard to make defensive tackles into household names.
But McCoy made his best attempt here: He asked referees to define what they find to be sexy, he taught a little girl how to dance to Meek Mill, he proved himself to be the most entertaining human to watch Game of Thrones with. He stole the spotlight in the season finale by taking full advantage of the Fight Song Friday policy in the Buccaneers’ weight room:
“Boomer Sooner” plays approximately 137 times per Oklahoma football game, and somehow McCoy still finds it shirt-rippingly great. I think McCoy has several thousand things he loves more than I love anything in life.
—Quarterback Sefo Liufau gets cut, because the Buccaneers don’t need four quarterbacks. He does, however, provide my favorite football snippet from this entire show:
I’d probably yell that every single time any player tried to tackle me.
—The Buccaneers do a pretty good job of not breaking the fourth wall for the entirety of this show, going through their football lives as if they weren’t being filmed at all times. Until this:
—Jameis Winston goes into great detail breaking down which states are in the Dirty South. Thanks for contributing, Jameis.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.