The final episode of Hard Knocks followed a predictable path Tuesday night as the show’s story arc ended with footage of the final cuts.
But the news that came out of those meetings was still surprising for West Chester High School graduate John Conner.
“I’m shocked,” Conner said after head coach Marvin Lewis informed him he hadn’t made the team.
“It’s a business, a money game,” he added. “That’s what happens in this league.”
Conner asked Lewis what he did wrong, and Lewis told him he didn’t do anything wrong and that converted tight end Orson Charles just added a little more versatility and a slight edge on special teams.
Some of the comments from the coaches showed why Conner was so shocked.
“John’s a better fullback today,” running backs coach Hue Jackson said. “If we’re going to be a regular a 20-play, 30-play regular football team, then you’ve got to go with John Conner. But that’s not who we are.”
Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden then added, “Clearly the best fullback is John Conner. But the difference isn’t that significant to where I have to go to war.”
In a bit of an odd twist, Lewis called Charles into the room to deliver the good news in person, but with the other players he simply made a phone call.
After delivering the whole reality show misdirection bit to fool Charles, Lewis showed him what he needs to do better by playing film of Conner.
It had to be a painful episode for Conner to watch.
Lewis told the four-year vet that he expected one of the other 31 teams to claim him on waivers, but that was filmed on Saturday and as of Tuesday it had not happened.
The Hard Knocks crew them filmed the seamstress ripping Conner’s name off the back of the jersey.
Here are some other highlights and observations from the final episode of the series.
For every John Conner there is a Jayson DiManche.
The undrafted rookie free agent has been impressive in the preseason but still was on the bubble going into the final cuts, especially when his friend Bruce Taylor called and told him after he got cut and told DiManche the team was only keeping five linebackers.
With the Hard Knocks cameras in his room and his future hanging in the balance, DiManche waited and waited before finally getting a call from head coach Marvin Lewis telling him he had made the team.
After a celebratory roll on the bed with the pillows and sheets, DiManche grabs his iPhone to share the good news. The camera gets a shot of the DiManche’s iPhone screen, which shows he has his mom stored in his contacts as “Mommy.”
Another great moment follows as we see DiManche walking into the locker room to see his locker and nameplate for the first time. Even though his back is to the camera, you can tell there is an expression of awe on his face as he stares at the locker and soaks in the moment.
Stephens sings again
No one expected undrafted rooke free agent defensive tackle Terrence Stephens to make the team, but it’s still tough watching a dream die.
Stephens had one of the highlights earlier in the series when he was put on the spot and ordered by head coach Marvin Lewis to sing in front of the team, resulting in a great rendition of “Superstar” by Luther Vandross.
Tuesday night we heard him sing “Gravity” by John Mayer, and Hard Knocks took advantage of the poignant lyrics by mixing in a montage of players on the bubble.
The scene cuts to Stephens talking to the camera prior to the preseason finale against Indianapolis, and he says “For a lot of guys this might be their last game ever, and that’s a scary thought.”
Then we get Stephens finishing the song with the lyrics “Keep me where it’s light” as we get a time lapse shot of the sun setting behind Paul Brown Stadium.
Black is back
The whole Larry Black return seemed a bit forced and even staged.
Black was the player who provided the most emotional moment of the series when the defensive tackle suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the first episode and tearfully called his dad to tell him he was on the way to the hospital.
His reunion with DeQuin Evans in the locker room seemed genuine, but his visit to the defensive line room was a bit awkward. It came in the middle of a meeting and no one seemed as though they wanted to be bothered with a visit.
He got a handshake from Carlos Dunlap and Margus Hunt, but it otherwise was a muted reaction.
Geno Atkins signed a five year, $55 million extension Monday morning, and Hard Knocks still found a way to work it into the finished product that aired Tuesday night.
It was funny watching all of the players reading all of the Tweets about the contract in the locker room. And it was a bit odd to see that big of a business deal being finalized with team owner and president Mike Brown in a gray Bengals T-shirt and Atkins in a black, sleeveless one.
The show could not have picked a better way to end than with James Harrison filming the Hard Knocks people while they filmed him.
Harrison repeatedly tried to duck the cameras or flat out mess with them, and he even went as far as to say they didn’t deserve to be there. So it make for a great conclusion to see a short montage of him playing with the cameras, with the final shot being him telling them to leave and tilting the camera down to the ground.