The scene, as Aaron Rodgers strolled across the Atlantic Health Training Center field for a Jets training camp practice, captured everything that has changed for the franchise since that March declaration by the quarterback and that April trade.
Fans welcomed Rodgers to New York. Claps turned into a standing ovation. Jets teammates sensed the difference, too, and as running back Michael Carter stretched, he joked, “You see how they go crazy for Aaron?”
“You all haven’t seen this before, have you?” Rodgers asked quarterback Zach Wilson, warming up as the fans continued to chant the 39-year-old’s name.
It didn’t take long for the first episode of “Hard Knocks” to feature Rodgers, along with the aura that traveled with him from Green Bay to Florham Park and the massive expectations the Jets now face in 2023.
The opening scene of Episode 1, which premiered Tuesday night on HBO, cut from Joe Namath’s Super Bowl III celebration to Rodgers walking into the Jets’ practice facility for the first time.
Rodgers’ training camp reps and his coaching insights during the Hall of Fame Game last week made appearances, too.
“He’s obviously the best quarterback I’ve ever had on my team,” head coach Robert Saleh said during the episode.
After one of the Jets’ training camp sessions, defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich was seen gathering his players for a meeting.
The offense had just ended the session with Rodgers throwing a pass to wide receiver Allen Lazard in the end zone, and the defense — as well as Ulbrich — had dropped to the ground for pushups.
“How the grass taste,” wide receiver Garrett Wilson yelled as he weaved in and out of the defenders.
But Ulbrich wasn’t mad.
There was nowhere for Rodgers to go with the ball, though he found a window anyway. Ulbrich understood the bigger picture of what had happened — and might continue to happen — with a future Hall of Famer orchestrating the offense in training camp.
“Guys, this is across the f–king field on the back shoulder. … I don’t know if there’s any other human on earth that can make that f–king throw,” Ulbrich said.
“He’s our quarterback. He’s ours. He’s ours.”
And in between the other scenes from the opening episode — from the back-and-forth between offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and new Broncos coach Sean Payton to Sauce Gardner’s college graduation to Rodgers’ obsession with “Hard Knocks” narrator Liev Schreiber and some already-released footage from the Hall of Fame Game — Rodgers’ new teammates were seen fully fascinated by what he brought to the organization.
Defensive lineman Al Woods called Rodgers “cool as f–k,” even if his portrayal on television might seem different. In a team meeting near the beginning of the episode, Saleh said that these aren’t the “same old Jets.”
The underlying reason for that switch, Rodgers, sat in front of Saleh wearing his No. 8 jersey, leg perched up on another seat, looking just as young and energized as any of the others surrounding the newest — though he’s the oldest and most accomplished — member of the Jets.
Payton makes an appearance
During the “pylon game,” which Rodgers said the quarterbacks will play to pass the time following the walk-through, a key part becomes the “psychout,” which is a reference to the 1990s comedy “Baseketball.”
It’s two points for hitting the pylon in the air.
One point for hitting it on the bounce.
But the key for someone scoring zero points might stem from heckling.
And when Hackett attempted a throw, someone away from the camera shouted, “Sean Payton.”
Episode 1 also included segments from interviews and press conferences that followed after Payton, hired as Denver’s coach to replace Hackett in January, broke the coach’s “code.”
He said in an interview with USA TODAY that last year “might have been one of the worst coaching jobs in the history of the NFL,” referring to Hackett’s tenure where he was fired before the end of his first season.
Sauce Gardner’s reason for graduating college
Gardner’s graduation from Cincinnati last weekend included a cameo from former NBA star Nick Van Exel and celebrations with family, but there was an underlying reason for the second-year cornerback — and reigning defensive rookie of the year — to complete his college requirements.
“It was always a box, I feel like, that was unchecked,” Gardner said. “I gotta be a leader on and off the field. I’d do a disservice if I didn’t get my degree.”
Rodgers and Schreiber
When Rodgers was asked about “Hard Knocks” during an interview at a golf tournament, he wasn’t thrilled about the Jets’ selection, except for the fact that he’d get to meet Schreiber, the show’s narrator.
Schreiber showed up to training camp in a helicopter that circled the Florham Park field. And once Schreiber arrived, Rodgers called him the “voice of God” and kept encouraging teammates to introduce themselves.
“You made a lot of New Yorkers very happy,” Schreiber said.
“So far,” Rodgers replied, before the segment continued showcasing his obsession with Schreiber.
Eagles, crows and the Jets
One of Saleh’s motivational training camp speeches for the Jets involved an eagle and crows attacking the bird.
The third-year head coach informed his players that instead of “tearing a crow to pieces,” the eagle keeps flying higher and higher until the crows suffocate — since it can’t breathe anymore.
“Guys, we got a great deal of hype around us,” Saleh said. We do. All kinds of expectations, and with great expectations, we know that there’s going to be a whole lot of people, a whole lot of crows, expecting us to fall on our face.
“What are you doing to find that little bit more to get us closer to being a great f–king team? You finish practice, now what? You finish meetings, now what? Lifting, now what? A rep, now what?
“And if we come together and we challenge ourselves to do a little bit more every day, the crows, they’ll fall by themselves.”