Each and every year, an NFL reality series delivers an exclusive inside look at what goes on within the walls of a franchise during the most frenzied time of the year for players, coaches and front-office executives: training camp.
Welcome to “Hard Knocks.” The Cincinnati Bengals will be the host team for this year’s NFL reality show. The 2013 show will kick off its five-episode eighth season on Aug. 6, with the Cincinnati Bengals as its featured team, and is shown exclusively on HBO.
Millions of fans – and most NFL teams – will be watching, for HBO Sports and NFL Films combine to do an exceptional job with this primetime presentation. Every big collision is captured and all bumps and bruises are felt, as if you were the player in a helmet running down the field to make a tackle or a receiver making a tough catch in traffic. And, let’s not forget the exhausted players trudging off the field toward meeting rooms, or the rookies forced to perform their favorite songs. There are also the moments when the Turk retrieves doomed players to see the head coach and hear those unforgettable words: “Coach wants to see you, and bring your playbook or iPad.”
During my tenure in the NFL, I had the opportunity to experience NFL Films’ invasion of an organization for just a few days. The behind-the-scenes crew is extremely organized, professional, polite – and they are everywhere. Based on my experience, I couldn’t imagine five weeks of such madness and distractions for coaches and players.
Several clubs see and use the opportunity to be a part of “Hard Knocks” as a prelude to the season and an infusion of excitement for their fan base. Others view it as a pain in the rear and don’t want anything to do with it. In any event, though, it is something to see. Twenty-four-man film units get carte blanche access, surrounding the facility from the front door to the back and upstairs. They start early in the morning, in the equipment room and locker room, before moving to the training room. Then it’s off to positional meeting rooms, hallways, the draft room, all areas of the practice field between the sleds and even the cafeteria. No room, with the exception of the owner’s quarters, is off limits.
Grips tag along with the headphone-wearing camera men, assisting them by tugging, pulling, laying and re-positioning wires. Others remove and replace tripods of all sizes, or tinker with tungsten lighting. Hard-wired and wireless microphones mounted on long extension poles reach and listen in on all conversations on the sideline, in huddles and meetings. In our nightly staff meetings with coaches and NFL personnel, we worked hard to curve our thoughts verbally – so as not to give away any information on players that another team could use in its evaluation process.
“Hard Knocks” initially launched with the Baltimore Ravens in 2001, followed by the Dallas Cowboys in 2002. After a several-year break, the series resumed in 2007 with the Kansas City Chiefs, winning a Sports Emmy. In 2008, the series returned to the Cowboys and received a second Sports Emmy for production excellence. In 2009, “Hard Knocks” spotlighted the Bengals, tallying two more Sports Emmy Awards for “Outstanding Edited Series/Anthology” and “Outstanding Post-Produced Audio/Sound.” Last summer’s presentation with the Miami Dolphins earned the franchise an eighth Sports Emmy in the category of “Outstanding Post-Produced Audio/Sound.”
NFL Communications contributed data to this blog.