This summer, the sixth installment of HBO’s Hard Knocks series will chronicle one lucky NFL team through their 2010 training camp.
Sure, the premiere is still a good five months away, but last week, Texans owner Bob McNair told the Houston Chronicle that he told NFL Films he’s interested in having his squad join the Ravens, Cowboys, Chiefs, and Bengals among the teams HBO has profiled.
That would be great national exposure for a young team coming off the best season in franchise history...but would it be exciting? Outside of Andre Johnson, Mario Williams, and maybe DeMeco Ryans, there aren’t a whole lot of “stars” playing in Houston.
After all, the inaugural edition featured the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens and their crew of Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and company.
More recently, you've had the Cowboys (2002 and 2008), who are always a draw, and the 2009 Bengals, who had the Ochocinco Show.
Even the 2007 Chiefs had a quarterback battle, a pair of big-name holdouts, and, of course, Priest Holmes attempting to return to football.
So who would be a good fit for the school of Hard Knocks?
Whether because of entertainment value, storyline potential, or just good old-fashioned insanity, these five teams would seem like a perfect match for HBO.
Yeah, they were featured in 2001...but the Cowboys have been on twice, so why not?
I can just say “Ray Lewis,” and that’s probably enough to sell you on this idea right away.
But joining him this year are a few interesting pieces, the most notable being Anquan Boldin. After feeling like he was being held hostage in Arizona the last couple years, Boldin comes to a team where he is the undoubted star of the passing game.
Boldin could certainly make some noise, and now that he’s free of the alleged tyranny in the Valley of the Sun, we can truly see what he has to say.
Flanking him is the Ravens’ second big acquisition at receiver, Donte' Stallworth. Cheap jokes aside, Stallworth will be attempting to return to football after missing all of 2009 because of that whole manslaughter and pesky 30-day jail sentence thing.
Comparisons to Michael Vick’s return would run rampant, and it will be interesting to see if, at only 29, the journeyman No. 2 receiver can still make an impact.
On the back burner, you have Ed Reed in what could be his final NFL season, a cornerback battle between a handful of guys who couldn’t carry Samari Rolle’s jock, and, just maybe, a cameo by Academy Award winner Sandra Bullock to visit the man responsible for her Oscar—offensive tackle Michael Oher.
At the very least, maybe we can watch moonlighting boxer and Scrabble enthusiast’s dream Tom Zbikowski finish out his three-fight contract by shutting up disgruntled backup quarterback (and former Ohio State Buckeye) Troy Smith.
All in all, that’s entertainment.
Here's another group that could rival any of the other previous subjects in terms of sheer combustibility.
Head coach Josh McDaniels wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s a trash talker, a fireplug, and, quite frankly, a guy who could make one hell of a reality show on his own if he wanted to.
And then there’s his team.
Who wouldn’t want to see the thrilling quarterback competition between Brady “Maybe that Draft Day fall wasn’t so crazy after all” Quinn and Kyle “Lunchpail” Orton?
Or, pretty much anything having to do with Brandon Marshall, who is more likely to drop an f-bomb (probably at McDaniels) than a pass from either of his quarterbacks.
Add in a pinch of Champ Bailey and Brian Dawkins, two tablespoons of the “hey, we can’t fail three years in a row, can we?” mantra, and a dash of potential freak snowstorm—hey, July or not, it is Denver—and you’ve got the makings of an interesting series.
The Jets would have been much higher up this list for Rex Ryan’s antics alone...but now that the big man has undergone gastric bypass surgery, the well of jokes poking fun at his ample midsection might run dry a lot quicker.
Still, Ryan is quite a charming fellow in that Family Guy sort of way, and Gang Green certainly has no shortage of entertainment value.
For starters, you have Mark Sanchez, the laid-back California kid who led the Jets to the AFC Championship Game in just his rookie season, heading into a 2010 year that everyone hopes doesn't include a sophomore slump.
You then have LaDainian Tomlinson, another So Cal refugee who went from sworn enemy to huddle buddy in eight weeks time.
Just three years ago, Tomlinson looked like he was on his way to becoming the best back of all time; this summer, at 31, he’ll be looking to prove he’s not washed up in the city that the original “LT” called home.
Add in guys like Braylon Edwards (whose past history indicates that he could be the next Jersey-based receiver to make a giant ass out of himself), Bart Scott (who, as New York media could tell you, doesn’t shut up even when no one’s listening), and Nick Mangold (best beard ever?), and you’ve got quite the cast.
Now, put that group on the outskirts of the biggest media market in the nation (and home of HBO, no less), and you’ve got an opportunity to make history.
While Rex Ryan is one of the most jovial head coaches in the league, Bill Belichick makes Buckingham Palace guards look like court jesters in terms of sheer jocularity.
Good thing his team more than makes up for that.
To start, you have Tom Brady, one of the most popular and photogenic players in the league. Now that he’s 100 percent from his 2008 knee injury, this show could see a lot of Brady being Brady.
Then there’s Randy Moss, who, while he has been somewhat of a model citizen since coming to Foxboro, could tap into the caustic side that made him a veritable powder keg earlier in his career.
As for possible secondary story lines, the Pats could have Wes Welker attempting to return from the shredded knee that ended his 2009 season, veterans like Fred Taylor and Adalius Thomas attempting to again resurrect their careers, and what’s sure to be a huge battle at tight end between three guys you’ve never heard of.
Oh, and of course we can’t forget the head coach, who is such a shrouded and secretive ruler that he’d seemingly rather endure waterboarding than give up the contents of his grocery list.
But hey, after Spygate, don’t you think that he and the Pats owe it to the world to put their training camp lives out there for the public?
Okay, is this really a surprise?
There’s really no bigger, uh, sideshow in sports than the one that takes place inside the confines of Raider Nation, so why the hell wouldn't HBO want to document that?
At the top you have Al Davis, who is, to quote my former colleague and WWE Hall of Famer Jim Ross, goofier than a pet coon and getting more eccentric (read: senile) every minute.
Then there’s head coach Tom Cable, who is liable to punch out one of his assistants again and would have the potential of a pink slip hanging over his head every second of the day.
In uniform, they’ll have JaMarcus Russell—who already showed up late to his scheduled gig of poorly impersonating a serviceable NFL quarterback—battling former MAC phenoms Bruce Gradkowski and Charlie Frye for the right to be the guy throwing to a receiving corps that had a lower combined total of catches, yards, and touchdowns than Andre Johnson had himself.
If that’s not enough, you can spend some time with Sebastian Janikowski and Shane Lechler, the highest-paid players at their positions in NFL history. This could be a whole lot of time, considering they are the kicker and the punter and see the field for maybe three minutes total per game.
If anything, this will be worth it just to see how a team with nearly a dozen Top-10 overall draft picks and the best shutdown corner in the league finds new ways to suck the glory out of one of the NFL’s marquee franchises.
Just laugh, baby.