‘Hard Knocks’ finale: Aaron Rodgers tells of a bizarre UFO sighting and more

  • Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff WriterSep 6, 2023, 05:55 AM

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      Rich Cimini is a staff writer who covers the New York Jets and the NFL at ESPN. Rich has covered the Jets for over 30 years, joining ESPN in 2010. Rich also hosts the Flight Deck podcast. He previously was a beat writer for the New York Daily News and is a graduate of Syracuse University. You can follow him via Twitter @RichCimini.

The final episode of this season of «Hard Knocks,» which aired Tuesday night on HBO, was out of this world.

New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the star of this summer’s series, gave viewers a UFO story. Yes, right in the middle of the usual end-of-training-camp storylines — roster cuts, welcome-to-the-team moments, fiery speeches, etc. — was his story about the time he saw «an incredibly large object» flying over New Jersey.

An old college teammate from Cal, Steve Levy, visited training camp one day, prompting Rodgers — in a sitdown interview — to talk about the time they witnessed what he believes was a UFO.

«It was definitely unidentified, it was definitely flying and it was definitely a large object,» Rodgers said.

It happened in 2005, when he was in New York for the NFL Draft. He stayed at Levy’s house in New Jersey and, in the middle of the night, he heard an alarm in the distance and walked outside with Levy and his brother to check it out.

«Up in the clouds we heard this sound and we saw this tremendously large object moving through the sky,» Rodgers said. «It was like a scene out of ‘Independence Day,’ when the ships are coming into the atmosphere, creating this kind of like explosion-type fire in the sky.»

Rodgers said they froze.

«About 30 seconds later, we heard the real recognizable sound of fighter jets going zoom, zoom, zoom. They seemed to be chasing this object. … We just stood there in disbelief for another few minutes. Nobody said a word. Then we all looked at each other like, ‘Did we just see what we thought we just saw?'»

According to Rodgers, an alarm from a nearby nuclear power plant went off that night. «And if you know anything about UFOs, there are a lot of sightings around nuclear energy, around volcanoes, around power plants,» he said, citing research he says he did.

— NFL (@NFL) September 6, 2023

Other highlights from the finale:

Speaking of outer space: Defensive tackle Solomon Thomas attempted a moonwalk. The Jets took a team trip to «MJ: The Musical» on Broadway, where they had the opportunity to spend time afterward with the star of the show, Elijah Rhea Johnson. He tried to teach Thomas how to do Michael Jackson’s famous moonwalk.

How’d it go? Well, let’s just say Thomas needs to sharpen his technique before he incorporates it into his sack dance.

New York, New York: The big city featured in this episode, which showed different players around town on their downtime. Frankly, it seemed a bit forced, as if they had run out of other storylines.

New twist on old theme: The Jets decided to bag a «Hard Knocks» staple — the painful scenes where players report to the coach or general manager and get cut on camera. Coach Robert Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas, out of respect for players’ privacy, didn’t want that to be included.

So they did the opposite, meeting with players to tell them they had made the roster. Specifically, they focused on Jason Brownlee and Xavier Gipson, both undrafted rookie receivers.

«I just want to let you know, man, you’re a New York Jet,» Douglas, on camera for the first time in the series, told Gipson.

His reaction was priceless.

— NFL (@NFL) September 5, 2023

That’s Smart(s): While they didn’t show defensive tackle Tanzel Smart getting cut, the producers interviewed him shortly after he got the bad news. Smart, who had a surprisingly large role in the series, was disappointed. «I deserve to be on the 53,» he said.

Rookie defensive end Will McDonald was stung by Smart’s ouster, but he got a welcome-to-the-NFL talk from linebacker Quincy Williams. «It’s a business,» he told McDonald.

There was a (sort of) happy ending for Smart, who was added to the practice squad.

More Saleh speeches: There were no crows and eagles this time. No, this time Saleh used a Mt. Everest analogy to describe the Jets’ journey this season, saying they’re still in base camp. In other words, there’s a massive climb ahead.

Saleh also got fiery, saying he finds it demeaning when other teams compliment them for playing hard. He wants the Jets to be known for more than that; he wants them to dominate — a much different tone from previous years. He wants them to be «a great team from now until freaking February.»

Final thoughts: The Jets provided good entertainment over five episodes, mainly because Rodgers is such a compelling figure. There were some glaring holes — i.e. nothing revelatory about personnel or roster construction. This was basically an infomercial about a franchise, emboldened by a star quarterback, that believes its time has come.

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