‘Hard Knocks: Houston Texans’: The Sadness of Cut Day, the Joy of Vince Wilfork in Overalls and Cowboy Boots


The Houston Texans are the subject of this season’s Hard Knocks, HBO’s wonderful mini-documentary series that follows a professional football team for the weeks leading up to the start of the season. Disclosure: The Houston Texans are going to win the Super Bowl this year. Another disclosure: They’re going undefeated, too. Final disclosure: I root for the Texans.

Some things that happened last night in Episode 4:

The FUCKs Competition Between Bill O’Brien and Linebackers Coach Mike Vrabel (UPDATE)

It’s no longer a competition, or if it is, then it’s a competition the way the Seahawks-Broncos Super Bowl was a competition, or the way John Wick vs. Those Guys in the Nightclub was a competition. O’Brien put on a world-class FUCK exhibition in Episode 4, delivering 15.51 variations2 of FUCK to just one from Vrabel. O’Brien was Jordan putting up six 3-pointers in the first half of Game 1 of the ’92 Finals. He was the Predator in the first half of Predator. Coach Vrabel, he stood tall. He was brave and he was fearless and he was determined. He stood on that log and cut a line across his chest in a declaration of war just like Billy did.

And he got mowed down just like Billy did, too.

O’Brien: 52.5

Vrabel: 26

The Best Editing of the Episode

During a segment about linebacker Kourtnei Brown, the narrator made mention of Brown having been cut by five NFL teams since 2012, with the voice-over saying the phrase “his dreams seemingly just beyond his reach” as they showed a slow-motion shot of Brown diving to tackle a running back, missing him by inches. It was a way better moment than the tricky lead-in they did last week to Brian Cushing vomiting all over the field.




I don’t even know.

How do you even?

What farm is he tending to? I bet it’s got the biggest fucking vegetables and livestock.

I super can’t wait for Green Mile 2: Coffey’s Revenge.

All of the Things J.J. Watt Did, Ranked


1. J.J. Watt shouting, “They can take as many tries as they need, they’re not getting in,” after his defense stopped the offense from scoring from the 2-yard line on four straight attempts. And then after that, digging the knife in further, dismissively asking, “You sure you don’t want some more work on that?” J.J. Watt talking shit will always be captivating.

1a. J.J. Watt eating 600 pounds of barbecue. He went with Vince Wilfork (and another guy who I couldn’t immediately recognize) to Killen’s Barbecue, a place that regularly requires you to wait upward of two hours to be fed, though I suspect Watt and Wilfork (and the other guy) were served much quicker than that. Right before we’re shown Watt and Wilfork at the restaurant, we see them walking around at practice talking about eating barbecue. After they decide to do so, Watt asks Wilfork, “What kind of meat are you getting?” Wilfork, ever the hero, pauses for a bit, then responds, “All of it.” Watt and Wilfork are the best interracial buddy-cop movie that I have ever seen.

1b. J.J. Watt laughing at something Vince Wilfork said. These two are great together.

1c. J.J. Watt talking about having lost his fifth-grade spelling bee.

1d. J.J. Watt breaking down a huddle.

1e. J.J. Watt standing as part of a huddle.

1f. J.J. Watt wiping sweat off his face.

1g. J.J. Watt making a funny face while trying to catch a football.

1h. J.J. Watt drinking a protein shake, then talking about treating his body like how Olympic athletes treat theirs. (This was before he and Wilfork attempted to eat an entire elephant.)

1i. J.J. Watt holding a towel around his neck while giving advice.

I Am So Happy for the Too-Small Cornerback Charles James II


He’s great. He’s become a legit underdog hero in Houston. When the Texans put him at running back at the end of this past preseason game against the Saints and he broke a 70-plus-yard touchdown run3 the first time he was shown touching the ball, I got at least as many messages about it as I do whenever J.J. Watt does something incredible. He’s going to make the team. He has to. HE HAS TO. Every time they show him, he’s doing something good. It’d be just a totally crushing move if the Hard Knocks people dedicated all this camera time to him, all of this energy to making us all fall in love with him, only for us to see him get his throat slit in the last episode. He has to make the team. HE HAS TO.

I Am So Scared for the Charming-But-Not-That-Great-at-Catching Wide Receiver Uzoma Nwachukwu


With the exception of Charles James II, no player has presented himself as more positive, more likable, more root-for-him-worthy than Uzoma Nwachukwu. In Episode 3, he was the one who oozed charm during an off-day trip to Space Center Houston. In Episode 4, he did the exact same thing, except this time during a fishing trip with fellow wide receiver Travis Labhart. I desperately want for him to make the team. But it feels a lot like he’s going to end up a casualty of numbers — there are 12 receivers trying out for, at most, six available spots.

Best-case scenario: Charles James II makes the team and Uzoma makes the team, too.

Middle-case scenario: Charles James II makes the team and Uzoma does not make the team and I cry a lot.

Worst-case scenario: Neither Charles James II nor Uzoma make the team and I hang myself.

Whether Charles James II and Uzoma Nwachukwu make the team is the only plot point I’m concerned with for next week’s final episode, truly.

The Most Houston Moment of the Episode


Shortly after Brian Hoyer was named starting quarterback, Ryan Mallett, the person he beat out for the job, missed practice. Mallett blamed missing practice on his phone’s alarm, but that’s (probably) not what actually happened. I’ll tell you what (probably) actually happened.

This will be Mallett’s second season in Houston. He’s been here long enough now that he’s become infected with supreme pettiness, which saturates the Houston atmosphere and is a thing that eventually soaks its way into every Houstonian. The only people who were upset that Mallett missed that practice were people who don’t live in Houston and sports-talk radio people, who, as far as I can tell, have jobs where they pretend to be very mad at stuff like that. Nobody in Houston cared. In fact, we all decided we liked him more for doing that. I am a big, big fan of supreme pettiness.

One time — this was, like, eight months after I’d moved to Houston — my wife asked me to take her to some fancy restaurant I didn’t want to take her to. I said no. She said it didn’t matter, that I was taking her anyway, and to go get dressed. And so I did. I put on a muscle shirt, a pair of basketball shorts, a fake fur coat, and dress shoes. I understand that that sounds like a lie or an embellishment, but it is 100 percent not.

I came out of the room like, “OK, I’m ready to go.” She just looked at me, and she was like, “That’s what you’re wearing?” And I was like, “Yep.” And she said, “Let’s go then.” I’d been in Houston long enough that the pettiness had found its way into me, so that’s why I dressed up like that. But she was born there and had been there for 20 years already before I even met her. She trumped my pettiness with TRUE PETTINESS. She made me sit in that restaurant in those stupid clothes and it didn’t faze her even a tiny amount.

The longer you’re here, the more developed your pettiness becomes. Shout-out to you, Ryan Mallett. I hope that after Hoyer messes up a few times and they decide to put you in the game that you for real throw an interception on purpose. You deserve that. You’ve earned that.

The Most Profound Moment of the Episode


Episode 4 was the first of two Cut Day episodes, wherein the Texans trim their roster from the original 90-plus players down to 53. The last few minutes showed Coach O’Brien in meeting after meeting, explaining to player after player why he wasn’t going to make the team. The last person brought in, wide receiver Travis Labhart, listened to O’Brien talk, mentioned that he had considered giving up playing football and possibly transitioning into a coaching role, then stood up, shook O’Brien’s hand, and walked out. The cuts themselves are bad enough; watching these guys — most of whom are still in their twenties — be told that they don’t have a job anymore is hard enough. But with Labhart, when he was walking out, when he was walking down the hallway in slow motion, the narrator verbalized the philosophical drama that appeared to be playing out in Labhart’s head. “Imagine your lifelong dream ending,” he said as Labhart walked, staring forward at nothing except heartbreak.

“Where do you go?”

“Who do you tell?”

“How do you begin again?”


Filed Under: TV, NFL, Hard Knocks: Houston Texans, Hard knocks, HBO, Ryan Mallett

Shea Serrano is a staff writer for Grantland. His latest book, The Rap Year Book: The Most Important Rap Song From Every Year Since 1979, Discussed, Debated and Deconstructed, is a New York Times best seller and is available everywhere.

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