Highlighting HBO's Hard Knocks Through the Years

Kyle BattleCorrespondent IJune 21, 2013

Highlighting HBO's Hard Knocks Through the Years

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    HBO’s Hard Knocks has become an anticipated staple of late summer for NFL fans and non-NFL fans alike. The cinematic representation of the gridiron has provided an unparalleled view into the lives and careers of those we pay so much to see.

    Similar to the way a marine biologist would circle the first day of Shark Week, the debut of Hard Knocks will undoubtedly produce a high volume of DVR recordings for sports fans. Going into its eighth season in 12 years, Hard Knocks producers’ biggest battle is getting a team to agree to open their doors to 24/7 surveillance.

    Only six teams have braved the spectacle that is HBO’s Hard Knocks: Ravens, Chiefs, Bengals, Jets, Dolphins and Cowboys twice. It was recently announced that Cincinnati would be featured again on the show and there’s no shortage of storylines there with third-year quarterback Andy Dalton, first-round pick tight end Tyler Eifert, linebacker James Harrison and defensive back Adam “Pacman” Jones in the locker room.  

    Coming off two consecutive trips to the playoffs, the Bengals can’t afford any additional distractions but head coach Marvin Lewis sees having the camera crews constantly around as quite the opposite, “The feedback we got from our experience with Hard Knocks in 2009 was outstanding. Our fans enjoyed it tremendously and we're happy to try and provide that same experience again.”

    The ultimate way of increasing the fan experience is to win games, so with that, here’s a historical look at HBO’s Hard Knocks and how the teams featured did that season.

2001: Baltimore Ravens

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    Hard Knocks began in Baltimore back in 2001 after the Ravens won Super Bowl XXXV. Then-rookie tight end Todd Heap was a player featured on the show as he adjusted to the NFL game. On the other end of the spectrum, veteran tight end Shannon Sharpe was approaching the end of his career looking to go out with a bang.

    They also had leadership from old-timers like Tony Siragusa and Rod Woodson to assist head coach Brian Billick on the field.

    Hard Knocks didn’t seem to affect the Ravens too much. Coming off of a Super Bowl championship, the Ravens went 10-6 in the regular season after being featured on Hard Knocks. They even won their AFC Wildcard game against the Dolphins before losing to the Steelers.

    Before Hard Knocks: 12-4, Super Bowl Champs

    After Hard Knocks: 10-6, AFC Wild Card

    Hard Knocks Effect: None

2002: Dallas Cowboys

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    The bitter taste of Troy Aikman’s retirement was evident in Dallas in 2001, leading to a 5-11 finish. Hard Knocks returned in 2002 to follow “America’s Team” who is never short of storylines.

    Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith closed in on Walter Payton’s all-time rushing record which he broke later that season.

    The Cowboys’ only draft pick that year was safety Roy Williams, so he was the de facto rookie personality featured on the show.

    After being featured on Hard Knocks, the Cowboys started the season decently going 3-3. They later slumped into a 2-8 decline to end the year, severely missing the playoffs at 5-11.

    While the Cowboys’ final record was the same for 2001 and 2002, they were much more productive early after appearing on Hard Knocks. The Cowboys began the 2001 season 0-4 but after being on Hard Knocks, they began the 2002 season 2-2.

    It’s unclear whether Hard Knocks played a significant role in this improvement but it can’t be ruled out either.  

    Before Hard Knocks: 5-11

    After Hard Knocks: 5-11

    Hard Knocks Effect: Negative

2007: Kansas City Chiefs

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    After a five year hiatus, HBO’s Hard Knocks returned to the TV screen in 2007 to follow the Kansas City Chiefs under the leadership of head coach Herm Edwards.

    This season of the show highlighted for one of the first times the intricacies of a contract holdout and its effects on the many parties involved. Pro Bowl running back Larry Johnson had a contract holdout but as if that weren’t enough, first-round pick Dwayne Bowe held out during contract negotiations as well.

    The previous season, 2006, the Chiefs went 9-7 and lost to the Colts in the AFC Wild Card game. After appearing on Hard Knocks in 2007, the Chiefs went 4-12, missing the playoffs completely.

    Given their issues off the field at the time, having camera crews around all day may not have been the organizational move. At the same time, few of their issues could have been anticipated and that’s why the show gets good ratings. Regardless, don’t look for the Chiefs to register for a second round after the summer of 2007.

    Before Hard Knocks: 9-7

    After Hard Knocks: 4-12

    Hard Knocks Effect: Negative

2008: Dallas Cowboys

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    The fourth season of HBO Hard Knocks returned to Dallas where the Cowboys were featured yet again. A full six years after their previous appearance on the show, the Cowboys again looked to the television show to regain interest in the team.

    The previous season, in 2007, the Cowboys finished 13-3 earning the top overall seed in the NFC. That meant little after Tony Romo threw an interception with :09 seconds left, securing a Giants win and ending their season.

    For this season, Hard Knocks featured rookies Felix Jones and Martellus Bennett as they transitioned to the NFL ranks. The show also followed Adam “Pacman” Jones as he was recently reinstated to the NFL following off-the-field disputes.

    After appearing on Hard Knocks, the 2008 Cowboys went on to finish the season 9-7 missing the playoffs. Dallas had high expectations to uphold considering they finished the previous season with 13 wins.

    Before Hard Knocks: 13-3, #1 in NFC

    After Hard Knocks: 9-7

    Hard Knocks Effect: Negative

2009: Cincinnati Bengals

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    In 2009, Hard Knocks ventured to Georgetown, KY to cover the Cincinnati Bengals’ training camp. Highlighted by the presence of former Bengals receiver Chad Johnson (AKA Ochocinco), camera crews were seldom in need of material.

    Crews followed veteran tight end Reggie Kelly as he fought injuries to make the roster. At the same time, the show provided insight into the contract negotiations for then-rookie tackle Andre Smith.

    The Bengals were 4-11-1 in 2008 starting the year with eight straight losses. In 2009, the season after Hard Knocks, Cincinnati began the season 7-2 en route to sweeping the AFC North. Granted, improving from an 11-loss season isn’t the loftiest of goals, but it could certainly be said that Hard Knocks played a role in their turnaround.

    Before Hard Knocks: 4-11-1

    After Hard Knocks: 10-6

    Hard Knocks Effect: Positive

2010: New York Jets

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    Perhaps the floodgate that opened the cascade of chaos that has become the New York Jets was HBO’s Hard Knocks. Jets coach Rex Ryan quickly became one of the most charismatic characters on the show and attracted lots of attention to the organization.

    From Ryan coining phrases about snacks to cornerback Antonio Cromartie unsuccessfully naming his nine children, the 2010 Jets didn’t lack excitement for the small screen.

    The show covered the high-profile holdout of cornerback Darrelle Revis as well as the emergence of Mark Sanchez as the man to lead the franchise.

    The Jets went 9-7 in 2009, barely made the playoffs and then went on to lose to the Colts in the AFC championship. In 2010, they finished the regular season 11-5 and again made it to the AFC Championship game, but not the Super Bowl.

    It seems that with teams like the Jets, ones with charismatic personalities and comfort with the media, avoid letting the presence of another media outlet affect their performance; they started the season 5-1.

    Before Hard Knocks: 9-7, AFC Championship

    After Hard Knocks: 11-5, AFC Championship

    Hard Knocks Effect: None

2012: Miami Dolphins

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    No teams agreed to allow access to Hard Knocks in the summer of 2011 as a result of the NFL lockout. The show resumed last summer in Miami.

    While arguably the most popular character of the show was the spouse of a player, Hard Knocks with the Dolphins had its fair share of oh-my-gosh moments. Most notable of all, however, was the firing of receiver Chad Johnson following a domestic dispute.

    The show followed rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill as he competed with veterans David Garrard, Matt Moore and Pat Devlin for the quarterback spot. It also followed defensive back Vontae Davis, a then-recent acquisition from Indianapolis.

    Hard Knocks also followed rookie head coach Joe Philbin as he grew in comfort within his role as leader.

    The Dolphins began the season 0-7 in 2011. After being on Hard Knocks, they began 2012 significantly better at 4-3.

    Before Hard Knocks: 6-10

    After Hard Knocks: 7-9

    Hard Knocks Effect: Positive

2013: Cincinnati Bengals

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    The Cincinnati Bengals made a significant improvement in their performance the last time they appeared on Hard Knocks. Again, the season before they started the season 0-8. The season after Hard Knocks, they started 7-2.

    There isn’t as much room for the Bengals to improve in 2012 as there was in 2009 considering the Bengals won seven of their last eight regular season games this past season. The Bengals need to get off to a strong start with the Steelers, Packers and Patriots all in Cincinnati within the first five weeks. Whatever ingredients there are in the Hard Knocks-flavored Kool-Aid in Cincinnati, the Bengals may need to take a few sips.