Chad Johnson

Commentary: Hail 'Hard Knocks.' Hail the F-bombs, the pathos, the broken spirits. But also admire the first-rate storytelling.

Commentary: Hail 'Hard Knocks.' Hail the F-bombs, the pathos, the broken spirits. But also admire the first-rate storytelling.

Legit or not, to fail in the NFL is to fail at manhood. That’s almost a medieval concept, sure. But the brutal, blue-collar ethos of pro football buys into that, as do many of its followers. Football = manhood. Sports = life.

Each season, on HBO’s superb “Hard Knocks,” some 40 aspiring athletes see their dreams dashed and their NFL careers start to flame out when they are cut by their team.

You want good television? Forty beheadings tops anything “Game of Thrones” throws at us, or the phony stakes on “Survivor” or “The Bachelor.”

So in many ways, the five-week run of “Hard Knocks” offers the most vivid and compelling television of the season — scripted or otherwise. Does...