Try to imagine yourself back in your fourth grade classroom.
Remember the kid who had to answer every question? He probably sat in the back of the class, away from the teacher’s direct line of vision. He would wave his hand feverishly, practically leaping out of his seat. His eager face would turn red in an all out effort to hold back from shouting, “Oooh, oooh! Pick me! Pick me!”
The teacher surveys the class, trying her best to ignore the kid who is about to explode. Half of the kids in the class are avoiding eye contact in hopes that the teacher won’t call on them. The rest of the kids are either not paying attention, picking their noses or a combination of the two. The teacher grows impatient and begs the class, “Anybody? Does anybody besides Jack want to give an answer?”
The popular HBO series Hard Knocks and the 32 NFL teams find themselves in a somewhat comparable scenario. The show documents a specific team’s training camp and was first introduced in 2001 when the Baltimore Ravens decided to star in the series after winning the Super Bowl the year before. Hard Knocks went on a four-year hiatus from 2003-‘06 before picking back up again in ’07 with the Kansas City Chiefs.
The show gained an enormous amount of popularity during the summer of 2010 when the flamboyant Rex Ryan and his New York Jets took center stage. Because of the lockout last summer, Hard Knocks is planning on making its much-anticipated return later this summer. But before the hit series can make its comeback, HBO and NFL Films must first overcome one massive roadblock:
Finding a team to star in the show.
It’s already almost June and HBO still hasn’t come to an agreement with a team. The show is scheduled to begin in early August so time is of the essence. In 2010, the Jets had agreed to be on Hard Knocks by the end of March so it’s safe to say that the program is running a little behind schedule.
But even as it seems like time is running out, Hard Knocks has been notorious for putting things together quickly. For example, on August 24th, 2010, Nick Mangold signed a new contract that morning and it appeared on the show later that night.
A few teams stood out at the outset of the offseason as perfect candidates for the spot: the Denver Broncos for signing coveted free agent Peyton Manning), Indianapolis Colts (for drafting Andrew Luck first overall), New York Jets (for trading for Tim Tebow in addition to Rex Ryan’s entertaining antics), Washington Redskins (for drafting Robert Griffin III second overall), and New Orleans Saints (for all of the turmoil they’ve generated so far this offseason).
There were brief rumors that Hard Knocks was going to do a sequel with the Jets – which wouldn’t be unheard of since the Cowboys did it in ’02 as well as ’08 – followed by rumors that they were going to document the rising stars in Atlanta with the Falcons this August. Both of those rumors have since been squashed. In addition to the Jets and Falcons, the 49ers, Texans and Redskins have also turned down the opportunity to star in the popular offseason documentary.
It’s hard to imagine why any team would want to host the show. With cameras and microphones at every turn recording every action and sound, all privacy is lost. Even though most training camps are held at facilities open to the public, there is a tremendous difference between a couple thousand fans peering through binoculars at the team’s practice and millions of viewers tuned into a private conversation in a team meeting room or coach’s office. Some coaches, like Washington’s Mike Shanahan and Houston’s Gary Kubiak, have been very clear on their aversion to the unnecessary attention.
But what about Jack, the kid in the classroom dying for his chance to shine? There’s always a Jack. Surely, someone must want to do it.
That team would be the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Repeatedly, they’ve made their interest in starring in the show very public. The Jaguars have been mentioned as an interested candidate most recently in an article from the Florida Times-Union. And by process of elimination, Hard Knocks may be forced to go with them, subjecting many fans to what appears to be a “riveting” summer in northeast Florida.
Coming off a 5-11 campaign in 2011 in which they fired head coach Jack Del Rio and finished the season under interim head coach Mel Tucker, the Jaguars are poised to be one of the NFL’s worst teams in 2012. The Jags brought in ex-Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey to be the head coach to help rectify young quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who struggled through his rookie season last year. As a head coach for two years in Buffalo (’04 &’05), Mularkey compiled a win-loss record of 14-18. It will be interesting to see if he fares any better with a floundering team under new ownership.
Jacksonville’s saving grace may be their first round draft pick WR Justin Blackmon along with veteran RB Maurice Jones-Drew. Blackmon was the top receiving prospect of the 2012 draft class coming out of Oklahoma State and Jones-Drew has proven to be a perrenial contender for the leagues’ rushing title. Both could potentially provide enough entertainment to sustain the series.
However, without a star quarterback or an entertaining head coach, it’s really hard to imagine Hard Knocks striking gold in Jacksonville. This is a team that has difficulty selling out its stadium let alone entertaining a nationwide television audience. But, if it ends up being HBO’s only option, they’ll go for it and try to make the best of it.