HBO’s Hard Knocks used to be my favorite TV show by a country mile.
Interesting personalities? Check. I mean, who are more interesting than those who work in an NFL front office?
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Violence? Check. Football is the only sport where it is encouraged to assault another human being every 40 seconds.
Drama? Check-plus. Hard Knocks debuted in 2001, before American Idol. Before America’s Got Talent. Before The Biggest Loser. It was a reality TV original. And it featured 22-year-old men having their professional dreams crushed by fat 60-year-old men in mesh shorts at 5 a.m.. What’s more dramatic than that?
But like all television shows, Hard Knocks needs to evolve. If it does not, then it will be canceled and sadly, it looks like it is headed in that direction if it doesn't get some new, interesting characters on board.
I watched just the first three episodes of this season’s show featuring the Cincinnati Bengals. Within the first episode I had the characters down pat. James Harrison is the house a-hole. Giovani Bernard is the little engine that could. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden (brother of Jon Gruden! You know the guy in those Hooters commercials?!) is the celebrity character. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is the show’s bad ass. Aaron Maybin is the tragic figure.
Same script as the year before and the year before that. Just different uniforms.
I got the gist of it early and then gave up. Never had I thought I’d give up so easy on Hard Knocks, but this year’s show was exactly like the dozen before. It is now a show begging, SCREAMING, for fresh blood and a giant twist. Either that or it will die a quick death.
That’s why it wasn’t too surprising to learn this week that the NFL is about to force teams to appear on the show. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that a proposal to "compel" teams to appear on Hard Knocks passed Tuesday ... Finally a ridiculous, my-way-or-the-highway power play by Roger Goodell that I can get behind!
There are several stipulations to the rule, however.
- If the team made the playoffs in either of the previous two season they may opt to decline
- If the team has a new head coach they can decline
- If the team has appeared on Hard Knocks in the last 10 years, they can decline
Jokers on Twitter immediately spoke of Patriots head coach Bill Belichick quitting before ever appearing on Hard Knocks. But the idea isn’t as ridiculous as it may seem on the surface. Belichick’s “Football Life” documentary caught everyone by surprise and was filmed during the 2009 season, arguably Belichick’s most tumultuous season in New England up until this year. The coach also has a great deal of respect for football history and NFL Films, as seen in the fabulous documentary miniseries “Full Color Football: The History of the American Football League.”
The stipulation of “teams making the playoffs in either of the past two seasons” may, of course, allow the Patriots to avoid Hard Knocks duty given that they are playoff locks each and every year under Belichick’s watch. But the folks at NFL Films can certainly ask.
I’m sure Belichick could care less about how he’s viewed by the general public. But after watching his “Football Life” documentary, even the biggest BB basher has to come away with an appreciation for his football mind.
After SpyGate, after the Aaron Hernandez mess, Belichick could do his legacy some good if he appeared, on camera, simply coaching.By allowing NFL Films cameras unprecedented access with Hard Knocks, Belichick would be evolving in some football fans’ eyes. By having Belichick and the Patriots on display for an entire preseason, Hard Knocks would certainly be evolving.
Beyond that, it would be entertaining as hell.
Is it too late for dictator Goodell to fiddle with those stipulations a tad?
Follow Metro Boston sports editor and columnist Matt Burke on Twitter @BurkeMetroBOS