Here we go again. HBO and NFL Films have chosen another victim to star in their hit series, “Hard Knocks”: the Miami Dolphins. After Dolphins owner Stephen Ross misfired on the hiring of coaches Jim Harbaugh and Jeff Fisher, he then fell short on acquiring the top free agent of 2012 – and maybe the last decade – in Peyton Manning. Ross was very much in charge, though, when it came to selling the once-storied NFL franchise to the brass at HBO and NFL Films, allowing his team on professional sports’ first reality-based series.
A 24-person NFL Films crew will live and breathe, record and follow every movement of the Dolphins training camp located in South Florida. They will shoot over 1,000 hours of video throughout the course of their stay, covering whatever sleeping quarters the team has arranged to the equipment room, training room, meeting rooms and on-field drills. The singing of songs, cutting rookies free from the goalposts after being taped in full gear by the veterans and personnel sessions on evaluating team talent – it’s all recorded.
Dolphins players will watch and listen for their own demise every Tuesday evening throughout training camp and pre-season. This behind-the-scenes routine of an NFL training camp is extremely intriguing to the average fan, non-football public and media pundits who don’t get an internal field trip behind the closed doors of a franchise. Depending on the organization, training camps are very metrically organized from morning to night and stretch out over a span of 20-plus days. There is, of course, pure madness or controlled chaos that comes out of unpredictable conversations of both the players and coaches alike. “The Kardashians,” “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” and “Jersey Shore” have nothing on this reality show.
In August, new head coach Joe Philbin’s patience will be tested early and often – not by his players, but by the all-access invasion of multiple film crews that will have carte blanche on the Dolphins’ training facilities. “Hard Knocks” will air its seventh-season premiere Aug. 7, deviating little from the principles that have made the show an annual ratings powerhouse for HBO. The normalcy of an NFL training camp – coaches teaching and motivating, fierce competition between players and injuries – all will be caught on film.
“We are delighted that ‘Hard Knocks’ will be returning this summer and placing the spotlight on the Miami Dolphins, a venerable franchise that had an exciting offseason activity,” says HBO Sports president Ken Hershman. “This marks the first time that the series has featured a first-year head coach (Philbin) and we are extremely grateful to both Coach Philbin and the entire organization for agreeing to participate. As always, there will be plenty on the line for veterans, free agents and rookies.”
“On the 40th anniversary of the greatest season in NFL history – Don Shula’s perfect ’72 Dolphins – it is perfectly fitting that ‘Hard Knocks’ is heading to Miami to capture the start of a new era for one of the league’s proudest teams,” adds NFL Films president Steve Sabol. “After ‘Hard Knocks” hiatus last summer, I know our team at NFL Films can’t wait to get back on the field.”
Not all football minds, however, embrace the concept. As reported by USA Today’s Michael Hiestand CBS NFL analyst Bill Cowher says that if he were still coaching, he wouldn’t let his team be on “Hard Knocks.”
“For the Dolphins trying to create a fan base,” Cowher says, “I’m sure it will be good for them. (But) for me, training camp is when you’re building a foundation, coming together. Those are sacred moments. Tough decisions are being made that don’t need to be made public. I was never interested in that. Training camp is too sacred.”
The Baltimore Ravens were the first team featured on “Hard Knocks,” in 2001, then the Dallas Cowboys in 2002. The series was put on the shelf until 2007, when the Kansas City Chiefs helped the show win a Sports Emmy. In 2008, the Cowboys were tabbed again and HBO received a second straight Sports Emmy for production excellence. In 2009, the Cincinnati Bengals franchise and the show captured two more Sports Emmys (outstanding editing in a series/anthology and outstanding post-produced sound/audio). For me, the most entertaining “Hard Knocks” came in 2010 and featured the New York Jets. That year, head coach Rex Ryan received a call from his mother halfway through the series because of his foul language. Despite major controversy, that series captured three Sports Emmys.
As always, this series will have good football insight, positional battles, the crowning of a signal-caller for a struggling franchise, beautiful cheerleaders, palm trees and, of course, South Beach. The key is the excitement that the Dolphin fans will hopefully feel when watching “Hard Knocks” on Tuesday nights, hoping to see a top-flight franchise and ascending players.