The first scene from the first ever in-season episode of "Hard Knocks" takes us inside a meeting room at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. It's Sept. 8, four days before the 2021 season kicks off. Frank Reich is holding court with the Colts' leadership council, discussing the "climb up the mountain" facing a team with high expectations this season.
What follows is a rapid-fire recap of the Colts' season to bring us to where we are now on Nov. 17. There's Reich telling his team after Week 3's loss to the Tennessee Titans "don't you dare flinch." After a heartbreaking defeat in Baltimore in Week 5, Colts Owner and CEO Jim Irsay tells the locker room "We never, ever quit, man" and references how "hard as hell" it is to climb Mt. Everest.
And in a more joyous moment, there's Irsay leading a chant of "We Will Rock You" in the moments after the Colts beat the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday Night Football.
As the recap of the first half of the season concludes, there's a shot of Carson Wentz making his way into the Colts' locker room after beating the Jets. Reich offers a voiceover to tie in his mountain climbing metaphor as the iconic "Hard Knocks" theme track starts playing.
"If you don't advance now, you're getting to that point where your oxygen's going to run out," Reich says. "That's where we're at."
Against that backdrop, the first episode of "Hard Knocks" begins weaving some of its signature behind-the-scenes storytelling. And the first episode showcases two of the team's biggest stars – Wentz and Darius Leonard – for not only who they are on the field as players, but who they are off the field as dads.
The journey with Wentz focuses on the impending birth of his second daughter – Hudson Rose Wentz was born on Monday – and how he and his wife, Madison, navigate the next chapter in their lives as parents.
Also, Madison says something every single parent can relate to: "Anything is better than Baby Shark."
"Hard Knocks" also does a tremendous job juxtaposing Leonard's "Maniac" mentality on the field versus him brushing his daughter's teeth an doing her hair at home (although he admits he can only put it in a ponytail).
"When I come home, it's dad," Leonard says.
The episode's crescendo then balances Wentz and Leonard on the field against the Jaguars in Week 10 with their wives and children watching their dads play from a suite at Lucas Oil Stadium.
There's a cool moment where Wentz says this is his "last game as a father of one," and explains to center Ryan Kelly his wife will be induced at 5 a.m. Monday no matter what.
"There are two things I would get up that early for," Wentz jokes. "Hunting…and I guess having a baby."
Madison is already exhausted – "I'm so tired," she says – while Leonard's oldest daughter chugs Sprite. And there's a poignant moment when Leonard gets hurt during the game and we see his wife, Kayla, noticing.
"Wait, Mia, let's go check on daddy," she says to her daughter. "I think he got hurt."
The episode ends with NFL Films' cameras going inside the Leonard household the night after the Colts' win over the Jaguars. Leonard explains what he'll do to try to treat his ankle, but more than anything, it's a peek into family time.
Because that's what it's all about for guys like Wentz and Leonard when they're away from the Colts' facility or Lucas Oil Stadium, after all.
"It definitely helps the pain when you come home and play with the kids," Leonard says.
More highlights – especially from the Colts' baby boom
- Colts punter Rigoberto Sanchez had the quote of the episode, talking about his wife giving birth to their daughter last week: "I always had so much respect for my wife but oh my God. I am not worthy."
- The Colts now have five players expecting children after the Sanchez and Wentz families welcomed their newborns in November. Kelly – already dressing like a dad – and Mark Glowinski having gender reveals at Lucas Oil Stadium was a cool part of the episode.
- Stop referring to Leonard as a small or little player.
- Reich explaining his instant connection to Wentz was instructive into how deep a bond coach and quarterback have.
- Running back Jonathan Taylor says his No. 1 goal is to be a champion, and he put it an interesting way: The NFL is his "last-ditch" chance at it, since he didn't win a championship in high school or college.
- We heard in postgame press conferences how Colts special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone called Zaire Franklin's blocked punt against the Jaguars, but getting to go inside the meeting room for the moment he did was really neat – as was Reich telling him "great job," on the sideline after the block on Sunday.