A year after taking the summer off because of the NFL labor stoppage, this current season of HBO's Hard Knocks has probably been the most hard to watch of the seven-season series.
While the releasing of Chad Johnson gave HBO a ratings boost early on, the story lines for the Miami Dolphins' 2012 preseason have been mostly flat.
Hard Knocks needs a change, and it needs one starting next summer.
The show should do whatever it takes to get one of the "big" teams on board for 2013.
Not only do all four have big followings, but the supporting cast of characters would blow away what viewers have had to deal with in Dolphins' camp so far.
No longer would HBO be dealing with a rookie head coach and rookie quarterback. The series wouldn't even need to reach for story lines in those four camps. The stars would pour out of each in a way we haven't seen in Hard Knocks since the New York Jets opened their doors in 2010.
It would be the kick in the pants the series needs.
The kicker here is that HBO would have to do some serious convincing to get any of the four franchises to do the show. In fact, it may not even be possible for HBO to pull it off.
At some point, all four teams have emphatically closed the door on doing a season. Could HBO get any of the four to re-open it?
Back in 2010, New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica asked Giants owner John Mara when to expect an announcement of his franchise doing a season of Hard Knocks.
"That announcement will come," he told Lupica, "when I'm next to my father in Gates of Heaven cemetery."
Safe to say the Giants don't have the same willingness to do the series as their stadium brothers did just two summers ago.
But can you imagine getting some of those names in front of the camera? Or what about seeing Tom Coughlin blow a gasket for a mistake or two during a team period?
The Giants are made for television. But management obviously has zero interest currently in doing anything for HBO.
Same goes for the Packers under GM Ted Thompson.
Here's what Thompson told Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press Gazette:
That’s not something that’s high on our radar. I don’t think Mike (McCarthy) and I, either one, feel very comfortable with it. I’m not saying it’s not good for other places. I’m sure it’s a successful television show. We don’t do business that way. … It would be uncomfortable with a camera there.
The Packers may be the perfect team for Hard Knocks; drenched in history, spilling over with stars and personalities, a Super Bowl contender and the small town, tradition-laced feel of Green Bay during training camp.
Plus, despite being located in professional sport's smallest market, the Packers have an enormous following across the country. Ratings would surely spike.
But unless Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy get run out of Titletown, HBO would be performing a minor miracle to get them on for a season.
The same could probably be said for the Patriots under Bill Belichick.
From Patriots Insider:
According to insiders familiar with the team, the Patriots are considered to be one of the clubs that HBO's producers have given up on trying to recruit. It's believed that certain decision-makers in New England have made it known there's no chance the team would agree to allow that kind of insider access to the Patriots.
But can't you taste it? An inside look on what makes Belichick tick. A closer examination on how the Patriots conduct their day-to-day business during camp. It would be riveting stuff.
And it's also the exact reason why HBO would likely have to assassinate Belichick before getting the cameras inside camp.
The Steelers haven't been as up-front with an answer of "no," but getting them on would be just as difficult.
If you could watch any NFL franchise for one season on HBO's Hard Knocks, who would it be?
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has said on many occasions that he is not a fan of the show, and that upper management would hopefully never put him in a position to be in front of the cameras during camp.
Doing Hard Knocks just doesn't seem like something this franchise—as it is currently constructed—would ever willingly do. But much like the aforementioned Packers, having Pittsburgh on the show likely serve as the catalyst to the most-watched season of the show ever.
Of course, this makes it very difficult for HBO.
Fans want the show, and it's still very good even when the somewhat punch-less Dolphins are the featured franchise. Getting a look inside an NFL franchise makes Hard Knocks one of the more rewarding pieces of sports television available to fans.
But the show will never reach what it could be without getting one of the big teams to do it. That's the simple reality of the situation.