HBO and NFL Films have been following an NFL team around documenting their training camp and preseason since 2001 and every year since 2007 for a series titled Hard Knocks. This is my first year watching Hard Knocks so going in I didn’t know a lot about it other than it wasn’t censored for swearing and that most teams hated being a part of it. It has reached the point where if all teams decline to be the focus of the show, the NFL will pick a team and force them to participate.
After watching the 5 episodes chronicling the L.A. Rams 2016 preseason, it is easy to understand why teams do not want to participate in the series. The camera crew obviously gets in the way and private moments are recorded and broadcast to the world. Head Coach Jeff Fisher came off as awkward and corny, and the number one draft pick Jared Goff did not impress with his abilities in practice or in preseason games.
The show is great in its production, but I was disappointed in its focus. Instead of featuring characterization of the “normal” players, the cameras always seemed to find the weird tank top wearing, mermaid believing, dinosaur denying, and the relative of a dead Hall of Fame player. In the middle of the second episode I came to the horrifying realization and thought to myself, “this is a reality TV show.” This isn’t a documentary, it’s a simple reality TV show featuring NFL footage.
Here are some specific observations:
The pressure of being a number one overall pick for a team who just made a high profile move to L.A. and then being a main focus of a popular TV series is insane. Jared Goff is only 21. I couldn’t balance a check book at 21 and looked at my first water bill in confusion thinking water was free. I would collapse like Drew Bledsoe’s lung if I was in his position. With all of that said, I am going to criticize him.
One thing I did know at the age of 21 is that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west (or as center Eric Kush correctly stated, the earth revolves around the sun, it doesn’t rise or set). The film makers did Goff dirty by putting that clip of him being unable to answer that question in the show.
In the first episode, it was explained that the team would be spending training camp in UC Irvine’s dormitories which do not have air conditioning. That is brutal, especially in the summer months in California, so in an effort to be a friendly rookie, Goff bought box fans for the entire offense. Just the offense, not the defense or special teams. This understandably upset Jeff Fisher because he knew the defense would feel underappreciated, so the team bought expensive single unit air conditioners for every room. I have never been a part of a football team, but it doesn’t make sense to me to only purchase fans for half of the team.
Goff struggled in the preseason and Fisher announced in the last episode that Goff will be listed as inactive for the season opener and is currently 3rd on the depth chart behind Case Kenuum and Sean Mannion.
Unfortunately Hayes received most of the screen time in this series. Maybe he didn’t, I didn’t actually track it, but the fact that he received any attention at all is disheartening. He believes in mermaids but denies the existence of dinosaurs. If he was joking, I’d understand, just a bad joke and move on. But you can tell he actually truly believes that mermaids exist and dinosaurs are a conspiracy. All of his points to support his claim make no sense. There is a clip of Jeff Fisher sitting at his desk and says this about Hayes:
“I remember him getting really excited about the potential for moving out here because he knew he would be closer to mermaids here on the West Coast.”
Hayes is a good pass rusher and a needed veteran presence on a young team, but I would cut him so fast. He could have the abilities of Reggie White and I would still cut him. After cutting him I would spread awful rumors about him so no other team would sign him. I will never be able to get over his beliefs and the show spent way too highlighting his “wackiness.” It cheapened the product.
It was sad listening to Mike Singletary go through the car wash at the Super Bowl media week earlier this year telling everyone he wanted to coach again. Equally as sad was watching him lord over the side lines at Rams camp as a defensive analyst or advisor. From what I saw in the show, all of the real defensive coaches told the players to respect and listen to Singletary, and when Singletary would get in the ear of a player, that player took in the information and acted respectful. It felt like a charade to make Singletary feel special again.
The release of wide receiver Deon Long was a strategic move by Fisher to show how tough and strict he is. The team had a “no girls” rule for the dorms. Long broke this rule and was promptly released by Fisher. I guarantee that if Todd Gurley, Tavon Austin, or Aaron Donald had an orgy in their dorms or even on the actual practice field, they wouldn’t be cut. I understand Long doesn’t have the clout that those guys do, but don’t pretend Fisher is a hard ass stickler for the rules just because he cut a wide receiver who wasn’t going to make the team anyway for violating a rule.
My stance on Fisher’s faux hard assery was confirmed later in the show when two of the teams good receivers crashed their buggy. The buggy was over turned and landed on top of the two receivers. Earlier Fisher made a hardline stance on not driving through the campus fast and dangerously. Instead of cutting the two good players after breaking a rule, he played the video of them crashing in a team meeting for a good laugh.
I have known about the infamous Gregg Williams for years, ever since he was suspended from the league for his involvement in the “bounty gate” scandal in New Orleans. I thought he was unfairly suspended and that he is a victim of the terrible decisions made by Roger Goodell. He was allowed back into the league, grew a goatee and went right back to coaching. After watching Hard Knocks, I can see many people around the league hate him and how his reputation isn’t the greatest. He is constantly screaming and cussing to make a show and to throw his weight around.
Again I am just a cynical observer who has never played football, but there was a scene during a preseason game where Williams goes insane on a young linebacker. The linebacker didn’t look at him or acknowledge him when Williams talked into his ear piece, and reacted in a way similar to how Danny Bateman reacted in The Replacements when he recovered a fumble. After cooling down, Williams talked to the linebacker on the sidelines and said he yells at him because he likes him and he thinks he is a good player or something like that. This show was revealing to the character of Williams.
Overall Hard Knocks was mediocre. For every interesting insight it revealed, it threw 3 reality TV segments at you. The general consensus on the show and the Rams is that Fisher is going to be eating his words, “I’m not fucking going 7 and 9.”