Thursday, September 10, 2015

Hard Knocks: A Farewell to Charles James II & His Happy Socks

Today the NFL kicks off his season and everyone is excited, as they should be.  Football is back!  My fantasy team looks really good.  So why do I feel so sad inside? Why does it feel like a piece of my soul is missing?  Why, in this high 90 degree weather, does the sun look grey and gloomy?  If you've been watching Hard Knocks on HBO, you know my pain.  It's the same feeling you feel when you lose somebody you love (on a TV show).  

A few years ago I used to watch Boardwalk Empire, another great show on HBO, religiously, first with my mom  and later with my girlfriend.  I loved this show so much.  I even created an entirely new blog just for that before the show ended last year.  (The blog was surprisngly well recieved.)  For those unfamiliar, the show was about the prohibition era, set in Atlantic City.  The main characters were Nucky Thompson, played by Steve Buscemi, and Jimmy Darmody, played by Michael Pitt.  Many people, including myself became increasingly attached to Jimmy.  He was a WWI vet, a stewart to Nucky Thompson, and you could see his internal struggles.  Now, a lot of people died on this show, but when Jimmy went, it felt my a piece of me died as well.  There was a whole in my chest.  I didn't want to sleep that night.  It was the first time a death on TV devestated me.  My mom burst in tears when she saw him die.  She said it was like watching one of her own kids die.  It took a while to recover from that loss.  (For all those crying out "Spoilers!", I'm not apoligizing.  You shouldn't have been sleeping on this show.)

Years later I'm a little more seasoned.  I've seen enough of my favorite TV characters die that I've been hardened.  (I can thank Game of Thrones for that.)  But this season of Hard Knocks: Houston Texans was different.  First of all, Hard Knocks is a great show.  I was borderline addicted to it.  JJ Watt is not a human being.  Watt and Wilfork had the bromance of legends.  Brian Cushing is hilarious.  These are players we fell in love with and had secure spots on the roster.  There were also players who were fighting for their careers.  Obviously I knew coming into Hard Knocks that players were going to get cut and it was going to be sad to watch.  Kind of like seeing a marriage proposal where the girl says no.  Watching Kourtnie Brown and Lynden Trail get cut was like that.  I saw how hard they worked, I saw how they struggled to find their place, I saw them make good pays that gave them life, and I saw them give up plays that basically sealed their doom.  

The cases of "EZ" and Charles James II were unique because I got really attached to them.  "EZ" was great because he was essentially a child in an adults body.  I don't mean that in a negative way.  He just looked at the world with such joy and wonder normally reserved for kids before they are hardened by life's disappointments.  Charles II was my new Jimmy Darmody.  He had this "happy socks" that distinguished him from the rest of the players.  If he ever decided to start his own sock line I'd cop myself a pair.  He, along with "EZ", were by far the most charismatic of the whole bunch.  Unlike "EZ" though, I really though CJ2 was going to make the squad.  CJ2 was an undersized cornerback, and that really worked against him.  But he worked his ass off in practice.  He was tenacious, resiliant, competitive and any positive quality you would want out of an athlete, just not long enough.  He was good though, and he was versatile.  Coach O'Brian even tried him at running back and CJ2 looked like a natural.  Did I mention he had "happy socks"?  "There was no way he could get cut", I told myself after episode 4. 

A few days after that episode news broke that Charles James II had been cut from the Texans.  An overwhelming sadness came over me and I wanted to play sad songs in my car until I cried myself to sleep.  By the next day I had come to terms with the sad reality and I had to mentally prepare myself to watch the final episode.  It was like knowning your boss is going to fire you when you go into his office the next day.  Somehow, knowing made the whole ordeal worse.  When I had time to watch it I made sure to watch it alone.  I needed time to be depressed afterward.  And throughout the episode I saw Charles as he had bad practices and a bad pre-season game against the Cowboys.  I watched him wait in anticipation and anxiety to see if he got cut from the team.  It was hard for me to see him not know his fate when I knew very well what waited at the end of the episode.  But even with knowing how the episode ended, there was a part of me that was foolishly optimistic.  Deep inside of me I was able to convince myself that maybe those reports that Charles were fabricated to throw us off.   I was waiting for Coach O'Brian to call that other cornerback whose name I can't remember to tell him he's been cut.  In the end that other corner was just longer and... that's it.  Once again I was devestated.  It was Jimmy Darmody all over again.  The difference was Jimmy was a character and Charles was a real person.  Charles had dreams.  He had hopes.  He had socks.  All was wrong with the world and I needed a bottle of whisky to make it right again.  

But another difference between Jimmy and Charles arose.  Jimmy died in the show and never came back.  Charles James II got signed with the Baltimore Ravens and still has a future in the NFL.  I would be lying if I said I didn't wish he signed with the Raiders.  Usually when I root for a non-Raider it's because the player is originally from Oakland.  Or his name is Richard Sherman.  But CJ2 was an exception.  I'm happy for the guy.  And his socks.

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