The last time HBO aired a show starring a charismatic, overweight leader of a Jersey-based organization in a violent line of work, The Sopranos finished its run by cutting to black. A few days ago, Hard Knocks, a summer series following the New York Jets and head coach Rex Ryan through training camp, appeared headed toward a similar inconclusive ending. Fortunately for HBO, star cornerback Darrelle Revis ended his holdout just in time for Wednesday's finale.
The Revis holdout was the most dramatic storyline of Hard Knocks. A team that fell one game short of the Super Bowl vows to make it this time, but they won't compete for any titles if their best player doesn't show up. The standoff between Revis and the Jets had been going on for months when Hard Knocks started filming.
After both sides agreed on a media blackout regarding the contract negotiations, the saga continued mostly away from HBO's cameras, which only served to build anticipation for Revis' eventual arrival -- if it ever came.
Meanwhile, Hard Knocks ran the risk of winding down much as The Sopranos did -- with popular characters getting whacked. During the offseason, the Jets cut ties with several respected veterans -- guard Alan Faneca, running backs Thomas Jones and Leon Washington and kicker Jay Feely. One of the few remaining leaders on offense was fullback Tony Richardson, who has earned much onscreen praise in Hard Knocks. Then Richardson got whacked, along with three-time Jet Laveranues Coles, who was expected to fill in for wide receiver Santonio Holmes during Holmes' four-game suspension.
The Jets brought Richardson back after a day, but that was probably not the dramatic return HBO was looking for.
Last week, Hard Knocks appeared headed for the sort of disappointing ending that has characterized every Jets season since 1968. But over the weekend, Ryan and Jets' owner Woody Johnson served notice that the last episode of Hard Knocks would not merely cut to black. The coach and owner traveled to Florida to meet with Revis and members of his family in a last-ditch effort to resolve the impasse.
From a ratings standpoint, HBO might have been better off had the Jets' mission failed. The Jets' boastfulness has made them a team that many fans of other teams love to hate. They would have enjoyed seeing Rex and Woody's excellent adventure end in failure and dashed Super Bowl dreams.
But it would not have been compelling TV to see Ryan, Johnson and general manager Mike Tannenbaum sitting around (in a Jersey diner with onion rings?) vowing to move forward without Revis.
Instead, with the dramatic return of Revis, both the Jets and HBO get their happy ending.
Now maybe Jet fans can forget about a previous appearance by a Jets head coach on HBO, when Tony Soprano was excited to spot Eric Mangini and Soprano's pal Artie Bucco referred to him as "Mangenius."