Oakland Raiders

Oakland Raiders: ‘Hard Knocks’ shows Gruden, Brown building a bond amid helmet drama

Oakland Raiders’ Antonio Brown, left, walks off the practice field Tuesday, helmet in hand.
Oakland Raiders’ Antonio Brown, left, walks off the practice field Tuesday, helmet in hand. AP

As the sun rises on the the third episode of Hard Knocks, Raiders style, comedian Frank Caliendo addresses the team, staff and head coach Jon Gruden. The comedian launched his career with his impersonation of former Raiders coach John Madden. He does an even better Gruden.

“Glennon, love you man,” Caliendo says to backup quarterback Mike Glennon, to whom nature has gifted a long neck. “We needed a quarterback on the team who had a lot of neck. We got a good guy for that.”

Laughter is on the menu. Gruden zings the comic, asking, “Why don’t you do something funny tonight, Frank?”

Says Caliendo, as Gruden, “I ran out of stuff about five minutes ago, man.”

But the laughter dies down during episode 3 as Gruden, responsible for five dozen players, assistant coaches, support staff, preparing each day’s itinerary and game-planning, has to devote disproportionate attention to the one-man soap opera that is Antonio Brown.

Even if Gruden wished to buddy up to every player in camp, it wouldn’t fly. Too many men. Too few hours in the day. But if means making the best wide receiver in the NFL (per a vote of NFL players) it’s time well spent.

Brown doesn’t make it easy. He’s at practice. Then he isn’t. He has a line on an NFL-approved helmet, then he doesn’t. His feet, frostbitten from misuse of a cryotherapy chamber, are still tender.

An exhibition game on the road gives the Raiders alphas a chance to bond. Gruden dials up a pass play that results in a touchdown.

“Good call,” Brown says to Gruden on the sideline. “You’re killing (it).”

“When are you ready?” Gruden chides Brown.

“I was (expletive) ready yesterday,” Brown shoots back.

“You can use my helmet,” Gruden says impishly.

“I know you’ve got an old one in there somewhere,” Brown says.

A seedling has been planted. A shared experience has been initiated.

After a subsequent practice at the Raiders’ Napa training camp the two walk off the field together.

Gruden asks about Brown’s feet.

“Once they get a little hot, they get a little burn,” Brown says. “I’ve got to take my shoes off.”

“Why don’t you go to a cryo chamber?” asks Gruden, eliciting a laugh from Brown.

“Not again. Never again,” Brown says. “Thanks for supporting me coach. The head, the feet, people after me.”

“I’ve been there,” Gruden said. “If you’ve got any problems, anything bothering you. … I know you got a lot of people in your ear because you’re like a corporation that’s kind of gone global. But at the end of the day, let’s keep it real simple. Football comes first.”