(MCT) — Do you know of anyone who doesn't think "Hard Knocks" is an awesome TV show? I do: the men who run the NFL teams whose involvement is essential to the show's existence.
Their resistance became abundantly clear this week when the league and HBO announced that the Cincinnati Bengals would be the featured team this year _ the same franchise that did "Hard Knocks" in 2009.
Although much of the roster has changed, it's hard to imagine the Bengals were anywhere near the top of the list of most attractive candidates. Ideally, a new team would be featured each year until all 32 have taken their turn. The fact the Bengals are stepping to the plate for a second at-bat just four years after their first indicates that multiple franchises turned down the opportunity.
The NFL declined to reveal the specifics of how teams are selected. Said league spokesman Brian McCarthy: "We work with the teams to gauge their interest and availability. We do not mandate club cooperation. We look for story lines, clubs that have a compelling combination of veterans, emerging players and engaging rookies, and also full participation from coaching and front-office personnel."
That last part is critical. Without cooperation _ allowing NFL Films into meeting rooms and onto the practice field for behind-the-scenes training-camp access – "Hard Knocks" wouldn't work.
Why do so many teams want no part of it? To find out, I spoke to two past participants: Brian Billick, former coach of the Baltimore Ravens, who's now an analyst for NFL Network; and Herm Edwards, former coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, who's now an analyst for ESPN.
Both ex-coaches said their "Hard Knocks" experiences – the Ravens appeared in the first season, 2001, the Chiefs when it rebooted after a four-year hiatus in '07 – were more positive than negative. But both said they could see how other coaches would view all those cameramen and extra interviews as an unneeded disruption.
"Is there potential for distractions? Sure," Billick said. "One of the things I was concerned with was that certain personalities would come to the forefront. I was worried about the rest of the team thinking, 'What are we, chopped liver?'"
During warmups, Edwards said, players sometimes would ask him if they would be on the show that week. "Don't worry about the show," Edwards told them. "Just practice."
Both coaches said the NFL Films crews were extremely professional and unobtrusive. Edwards said it took about a week to get used to the presence of the cameras.
The other major concern is those added obligations taking time out of a coach's already-packed schedule. Billick said he and GM Ozzie Newsome had final editorial say and would review the show the morning before it was set to air. (Billick could recall only one instance where they requested a scene be cut.) Edwards said he sometimes didn't have enough time to watch the episodes in their entirety.
There's no data to support the contention that appearing on "Hard Knocks" is detrimental to a team's fortunes. Three teams have had worse records than the previous season, three have had better records and one team's remained the same.
Billick wanted his defending-champion '01 Ravens to do "Hard Knocks" to counteract the post-Super Bowl lethargy he had heard so much about. Edwards said he and then-Chiefs GM Carl Peterson believed it would be good for the game to appear on the show.
"We felt like it was good for football," Edwards said. "It was good for fans to see what players went through to try to be a professional football player."
Unfortunately, it seems the majority of the league does not share Edwards' outlook.
MCENROE AND MANDELA
John McEnroe discussed his unique relationship with Nelson Mandela during a conference call this week promoting ESPN's exclusive coverage of Wimbledon, which starts Monday.
Mandela listened to McEnroe's legendary 1980 championship match against Bjorn Borg while in prison. McEnroe said he felt "like a complete jerk" for whining about calls after learning of Mandela's plight.
"It certainly gave me some perspective about the situation I was in," McEnroe said. "I shouldn't have had a whole lot to complain about."
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1. NBC hockey analyst Eddie Olczyk has a Cris Collinsworth-like ability to see how plays develop and to rapidly and clearly relay that information to viewers. Olcyzk might not be long for the booth, however. He told the Sherman Report that he has "unfinished business" in the NHL after being fired as coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2005.
2. Brilliant move by the Dodgers to have Vin Scully take over the team's Twitter account during Game 2 vs. the Yankees on Wednesday. Scully no longer travels outside the division. This enabled him to cover the game in a different way and to interact with his fans. You can still read Scully's tweets by visiting the Dodgers' Twitter page.
3. I did not realize at the time the significance of ESPN laying off longtime researcher and one-time game-show savant Howie Schwab. Kudos to Deadspin's Tommy Craggs for explaining the role Schwab and others like him played in ESPN's growth and evolution in the 1990s.