“Hard Knocks”, my favorite TV show about NFL football, has one large, undeniable drawback: HBO’s popular series features only one team per season.
This season Cincinnati is that team.
I’m from Pittsburgh.
The Steelers will never be on the TV show “Hard Knocks”. They’ve made that abundantly clear. No cheerleaders. No logo on the left side of the helmet. No HBO cameras in Latrobe.
And so, every year, Steelers Nation is challenged to keep from rooting for another team. Make no mistake about it. That’s what this show is all about. The job of the documenters of “Hard Knocks” is to make the players and coaches who conceive the X’s and O’s of professional football into empathetic figures, and no one is better at it.
The problem, of course, is that I don’t want to like the Bengals.
This is the second time Cincinnati was the featured franchise. I don’t know the ins and outs of the decision making meetings between the league and the cable channel that make the determination of which team has its’ camp invaded by filmmakers. For some reason they decided to return to Paul Brown Stadium having been there just four short seasons ago.
In 2009 “Hard Knocks” garnered its highest ratings to date and picked up a pair of sports EMMY’s to boot. That was the season HBO viewers were introduced to Chad Ochocinco, Chris Henry and Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer, who ended up being the star of that season’s “Hard Knocks”.
That’s one of the appeals of this outstanding show. Each season, for a month or so, we’re introduced to intriguing and interesting men who we’ve perhaps never noticed before (although we’ve been watching football all of our lives). That sort of story-telling, the kind that creates a bond between a new and unknown character and the viewer, is what takes “Hard Knocks” to the top of the heap of sports programming.
And it’s a problem.
Have I mentioned I don’t want to like the Bengals?
I watch each season and by the time the short-lived (usually five episodes) show ends, I find that I spend the rest of the NFL year following (if not exactly “rooting”) the players and coaches of that season’s featured team.
The only exceptions? The two years that Dallas was the chosen team. In 2002 and 2008, I watched reruns of Scooby Doo. No matter how many awards “Hard Knocks” wins, no matter how good I think the show is, I’m not watching the Dallas Cowboys.
As I write this, episode three of this season’s “Hard Knocks” is being edited and readied for airing. I’ve already bought into the stories of Margus Hunt, the Estonian shot-putter trying to make it as an NFL defensive end, Terence Stevens, the singing rookie tackle from Stanford and, of course, James Harrison, former Steeler who was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year.
During this season’s “Hard Knocks”, James has made a huge production of not wanting to be on camera. By doing so, he’s gotten on camera. He continues to create many opportunities to get on camera and show that he does not want to be on camera. He says he doesn't like being on camera. And yet he keeps getting on camera.
He and I are somewhat alike in that way. I don’t want to like the Bengals. And I’ll keep telling you how much I don’t want to like the Bengals as I watch this show about the Bengals.
I don’t like them.
But I keep watching this show.
That’s the problem with “Hard Knocks”.