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Hard Knocks is an HBO documentary mini-series that takes a look inside the NFL training camp, with one team voluntarily chosen as the focal point every year. Of the 10 teams featured on the show thus far, none have won a Super Bowl and just 5 would go on to receive a playoff birth heading into the postseason. Written by
James C. Searson
A nice way of acquainting true football fans with the real emotions of the NFL
It should be noted, first and foremost, that this documentary will not be entirely clear to those not acquainted with the NFL. This show does not take one by the hand and explain all that is going on. It respects the football IQ of its viewers and makes numerous references to current players that are known to only those who have been following the NFL diligently in recent years. The strength of "Hard Knocks" is that it puts on display the real interactions between NFL players, coaches and people of power. It does a good job of capturing the attitude and style of thinking of this unique group of people. It is a world that, until seen, is still somewhat distant for even the most hard-core of football fans. One learns things like what exactly it is that coaches do, the kinds of hints they give their players, the minute details that determine whether one makes the cut or is placed on waiver wires.
One interesting aspect of the series was how blunt and cold-blooded the director of football operations, Jim Lippencott, was in releasing players. He stood in stark contrast to president/owner Mike Brown, a surprisingly affectionate man considering his position, who, it seemed, employed Lippencott simply because he did not have the heart to break unsettling news to his players, all of whom seem rather dear to him. One walks away feeling as if Brown is perhaps the most loyal and fatherly of NFL owners. This claim might be justifiable as his habit of taking in, grooming and retaining talented players with checkered pasts is unrivaled in the NFL. A key difference between Brown and, say, Al Davis, is that Brown does so with sincerity and grows quite attached to his players as evidenced by his comments made concerning Chris Henry, who passed away months after the filming of "Hard Knocks". Despite his troubles (which included multiple arrests), Brown strongly endorsed Henry and admits to his soft spot for the young, misunderstood wide receiver (Brown made an astonishing move by re-signing Henry shortly after having released him due to his latest bout with the law).
The only flaws this series had are related to dramatizing certain elements beyond necessity. This, of course, gives the documentary more of a story, which, is understandable considering the circumstances. Yet, one walks away feeling as if, the effect of players who, at best, will contribute minimally, was blown out of proportion. Though the coaches' assessments and reactions were real, it might be argued that the viewers were led to believe that lesser training camp competitions and certain, less-heralded rookies were essential to the Bengals' success.
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