For the football aficionado late July represents the start of the new year as NFL training camps open and the promise of a new season is in the heart of each fan. It also represents the start of the ultimate reality show for football fans, that being the HBO series, “Hard Knocks.” It is a terrifically edited inside look into training camp, with the engaging voice of actor Liev Schreiber serving as our narrator, and letting us in on the secrets of training camp. We love it, but teams do not.
This past season, the Cincinnati Bengals were featured. Yet if you watched, you undoubtedly noticed that some were far less than thrilled to be on the show. Former Steeler (and Bengal newcomer) James Harrison was bold in his refusal to speak when HBO cameras were present. He was often seen extending his middle finger at cameramen who had the nerve to point their lenses in his direction. Harrison’s behaviors match the views of the majority of the NFL. Teams head for the hills to avoid being selected as the Hard Knocks’ team for that season.
It has been so difficult to find volunteers for the annual show that the NFL has had to introduce a rule that identifies teams that would be eligible for program for the coming season, even if selected against their will. Under the rule, NFL franchises are exempt from being forced to allow HBO’s cameras follow them through training camp under certain circumstances. If the team appeared any time over the past 10 years, made the playoffs at least once in the prior two years, or have a new head coach, they get a pass. Absent a volunteer team, this formula leaves the Arizona Cardinals as one of the eight eligible teams for the 2014 version of Hard Knocks. The others are the Bills, Bears, Jaguars, Giants, Raiders, Steelers and Rams.
Admittedly, of the eight, I must assume that the braintrust at HBO Headquarters is not clamoring for the Bills, Jags, or Rams. Landing the Giants or Bears would be a coup, but upper management of the Bears stated that fans would likely see Bears’ cheerleaders (which they do not have) sooner than they would see the team featured on Hard Knocks. Further, I find it hard to believe that perpetually-grumpy coach Tom Coughlin of the Giants would have the least bit of interest in having cameras invade his space or his training camp. If James Harrison was a problem for HBO last year, Coughlin may be even worse. The Raiders would be an interesting selection because they always seem to be a train wreck but, beyond that, there is not much interest in a post Al Davis era franchise that seemingly has no direction. Aside from the Cardinals, that would leave the Steelers, who have appealing characters such as Big Ben and Troy Polamalu, but there is nothing overly interesting about a team that takes a blue collar approach to its preparation.
As for the Cardinals specifically, Coach Arians has been quoted as saying he has absolutely no interest in having HBO use the Cardinals for the show. Why would he? It doesn’t sell tickets, improve his training camp or give him sought-after publicity. Arians is old school and is not a self-promoter, so being the star of the series would have little or no interest to him. On the side favoring selection of the Cardinals for Hard Knocks, we as fans would love to see the national attention. We know that there is great depth and high expectation for a football program that has previously been a perennial bottom dweller. Why wouldn’t we want the rest of the nation to see what has excited us over the past year?
On purely a statistical analysis, some may assert that being selected for Hard Knocks is the equivalent of the “Madden Curse” for EA Sports’ Madden Football. Well, that is only partially true. Of the eight teams who have been featured on Hard Knocks, four did not make the playoffs, despite some being pre-season playoff contenders. Of the other four, none made it to the Super Bowl and only one lasted to the Conference Championship Game. Therefore, there is reason to conclude that good fortune does not necessarily come to a team being featured on Hard Knocks.
In any event, I am predicting that the only football feature HBO will film in Phoenix this coming season will surround the Super Bowl. Hard Knocks will not inflict itself on the Cardinals and while the Bears, Giants and Steelers can run, they won’t be able to hide. One of them is about to hear the knock.