In a surprise move Thursday, HBO announced that it would feature the Atlanta Falcons on its award-winning, reality sports documentary series Hard Knocks.
After two consecutive playoff appearances, the Falcons turned down the opportunity to be on the show in 2012, according to Pat Yasinskas of ESPN.com. Atlanta went on to a 13-3 record and made it all the way to the NFC Championship Game, cementing a three-year stretch of prosperity unlike anything the franchise had ever experienced.
But in 2013, the Falcons fell apart. Injuries and lack of depth pushed the team to a 4-12 record. Instead of accepting HBO’s offer to be featured during a period of excellence, Atlanta amazed the football world by accepting the task while trying to bounce back from one of the worst seasons in team history.
The news wasn’t met with enthusiasm.
The Falcons have never been known as an exciting team. Whether the franchise is experiencing 13-3 greatness or languishing in a 4-12 purgatory, the organization handles its business—on and off the field—in a workmanlike manner, rarely showing emotional highs or lows.
Even though head coach Mike Smith was a member of the Baltimore Ravens coaching staff in 2001 when the Ravens were on Hard Knocks, he’s been reluctant to participate in the show in the past. Last season, when the Cincinnati Bengals were the subjects of Hard Knocks and practiced with the Falcons during filming, Smith made sure it caused as little a disturbance as possible.
The face of the franchise, quarterback Matt Ryan, isn’t flashy. He does his talking on the field, and when he speaks to the media, he speaks with the savvy of a seasoned PR vet.
The Falcons, and their players, aren’t boring. But when it comes to moving the publicity needle, there are sideshows and spectacles around the NFL more appealing than Atlanta. And HBO is going to have to dig in deep to peel away the intriguing storylines. But those storylines are there.
Here are three examples of Falcons personnel that are sure to provide their share of fantastic viewing moments:
There is No Spoon
The Falcons were dealt a huge blow on Tuesday, when linebacker Sean Weatherspoon ruptured his Achilles while working with the training staff during an OTA session. Weatherspoon will miss the 2014 season.
HBO is also going to feel the impact of this injury.
Weatherspoon was made for the camera. He’s charismatic, always smiling and never afraid to spark up a conversation. Anyone who has covered the Falcons for any amount of time appreciates Weatherspoon’s style and candor, and the HBO audience would have fallen in love with him.
While injured players are around Atlanta’s Flowery Branch, Georgia, facility during rehab, the media has zero access to them while they’re injured. With the extra, behind-the-ropes access HBO will have, the Falcons may grant the network permission to get Weatherspoon on camera on occasion.
That would be good.
An Unfiltered Roddy…Please
Wide receiver Roddy White is a quote machine. When he talks, everyone listens. And if they don’t hear it in person, he’s very active on Twitter and other social-media platforms.
White’s message isn’t always positive, or carefully planned, but it’s usually a ratings grabber. He’s sure to be one of the stars of Hard Knocks.
While on the field, White is often chatting up the coaching staff, the media or trash-talking with other players. It’s his way.
HBO likely won’t let White get into the kind of trouble on TV that he has found himself in on Twitter (like when he suggested that jurors from the George Zimmerman trial kill themselves after their verdict), but it’ll allow him to walk all the way up to the line without crossing it.
At least I hope it does.
The Falcons hired Bryan Cox in January to be their new defensive line coach. If you ever saw him play, you’ll remember a very animated athlete on the field. In fact, he had some rather choice words about himself as a player.
“Sometimes I went a little over the edge. I didn’t know where the edge was,” Cox said after an OTA session on June 4. He said to play football, you had to be a little crazy, and that he, himself, was crazy...on the field.
“Off the field, nobody can say a bad thing about me,” said Cox. “But on the field, I was totally different. Once I suited up in that armor, I was the baddest son of a bitch out there.”
Cox isn’t quite that vivacious as a coach, and thus far, we’ve only seen one personality from him. But he does bring an energy that hasn’t been present among the assistant coaches for some time.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.
Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of “100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die.” Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.