'Hard Knocks' Episode 3 recap: Cowboys remain biggest show in the sport

Let's start with the drone shot:

NFL Films and HBO have pretty much rewritten the book on what sports television can be over the 20 years of Hard Knocks, so consider this audacious, three-minute flyover shot an all-time flex, the pièce de résistance, for the whole team. As Peter Schrager aptly put it, it's the Goodfellas Copacabana shot for sports TV nerds, and it will go down as one of the most indelible moments in this show's rich history. Bravo.

The background: The Hard Knocks production team had a three-hour window to pull off the drone shot before a boxing match scheduled at the facility, and they stuck the landing on their 15th and final try. I want to know the name of the drone operator because a person with hand-eye coordination like that could be the functional backup quarterback the Cowboys are so desperately searching for right now.

The stunning open to the third episode of Hard Knocks also served a functional purpose -- it gave viewers an intricate (literal) bird's-eye view of Dallas Cowboys headquarters -- a.k.a., The Star. The campus covers 91 acres and includes a 12,000-seat indoor stadium, boutique shopping center and a luxury hotel. It's the most Texas thing that's ever existed.

And it all exists because of Jerry Jones, whose bigger-is-better mantra is a perfect fit for the state his team represents. The Star, along with AT&T Stadium -- or Jerry World, the other crown jewel of the Cowboys empire -- are as much a part of Jones' legacy in Dallas as the three Super Bowl titles he captured in the '90s. This month, Forbes estimated the Cowboys’ worth at $6.5 billion, making them (by far) the NFL's most valuable team for the 15th straight year. That's $6.5 billion on an initial investment of $150 million when Jones purchased the team in 1989. You'd guess that removes some of the sting of 25 years without a championship.

The Cowboys are easy to hate, and fun to root against for many of the league's millions of fans, but they are incredibly important to the ecosystem of the sport. They are what the New York Yankees are in Major League Baseball; what Manchester United is to fans of the Premier League. You might detest the Cowboys, but you know the sport isn't nearly as enjoyable when they're not front and center in the mix.

Jones, now in his fourth decade as the boss, is at the center of it all: The most famous owner of the league's most famous team. During Tuesday's episode, we get another Hard Knocks first when Jones is interviewed from his private helicopter at the start of the 36-mile journey from the team facility to the stadium for a preseason matchup against the Texans. Jones' musings on roster construction are interrupted by the pilot, who cautiously relays a request for a return to team headquarters to collect Stephen Jones, Jerry's eldest son and the No. 2 in the company power structure. Jerrah is annoyed -- if NFL Films cameras aren't trained on him at that moment, he might tell Stephen to get his ass up President George Bush Turnpike in a cab.

But on this day? Stephen is in luck. Jerrah swallows his rage and authorizes the return trip to The Star. "Why not just start the day f-----' it up?," Jerrah grouses with a grin. "Startin' off the day here with a pre-snap penalty."

Why does HBO need another season of Succession when it already has America's Team?

Extra points …

  • I love when this show offers a window into the true personalities of well-known players. Dak Prescott is a perfect example: The Cowboys quarterback is a little, well, weird … but in an endearing and relatable way. I loved his childhood revelation about wearing Under Armour under his school clothes in an effort to, as he puts it, "tuck in the chub." Later in the episode, the star QB goes into an extended rant on his enduring distrust of people in costumes.
    "That's why I never did anything haunted," he explains to his fellow QBs. "I used to tell my mom that's the perfect place to kill somebody. … Y'all think it's a fake chainsaw. You don't know, one of them crazy f------ put a blade on that b---- one day." Never change, Dak.
  • Watching Ezekiel Elliott do his thing at Cowboys practice is really making me think he's a perfect selection in the back end of the first round of your fantasy draft. Zeke Bounceback Szn is real.
  • The NFL's International Pathway Program continues to get some well-deserved pub on Hard Knocks. On Tuesday, we learned more about guard Isaac Alarcon, the Monterrey, Mexico, native with close family bonds and a wish to move from the practice squad to the 53-man roster. "My dream was never to get to the NFL," Alarcon explains. "In Mexico, that always seemed impossible. Then the International Pathway Program came about." Slap that quote on the IPP brochure!
  • I know I'm supposed to be bowled over by the precociousness of Trevon Diggs' son, but I just went through a summer with my two young sons inside our house all day, every day and … well, I just need a break. Cute kid, though.
  • I sure hope Cowboys mailroom supervisor Jonathon Jackson is getting some fan letters of his own over the next few weeks. Just a sweet and likable dude -- and the backstory of four generations of Jacksons working for the Cowboys is beyond cool. Says Dak: "That's Cowboys royalty."
  • Quote Of The Week:
    "I'm one and one!"
    Undrafted free agent running back JaQuan Hardy, whose misguided attempt to launch a new expression for missing a contact lens led to rounds of ribbing from teammates. Poor JaQuan caught it in all directions in this episode. When he transitions to spec goggles, one teammate jokes: "You're looking like a create-a-player." Put that man in a bodybag.
  • What happened to Mojo Moments? I was promised Mojo Moments!
  • Three additions to the Hard Knocks Spotify playlist this week.

'Til next Tuesday.

Dan Hanzus hosts the award-winning Around The NFL Podcast and has been NFL.com's Hard Knocks beat writer since 2012. You can check out his complete recap archive right here.

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