NFL Films has been producing slow motion zoomed in replays of great NFL moments with epic music and Sabol narration since the early 60’s. Starting in 2001 they provided film and camera work for the first season of HBO’s Hard Knocks which gives behind the scenes access of an NFL team during its training camp.
The Hard Knocks mixture of documentary and reality TV with the NFL has since expanded to the ever growing reach of Amazon. Last summer the first season of the terribly named All or Nothing series was released via Amazon Instant Video. All or Nothing starts before and goes beyond spring training which is the slim focus of Hard Knocks. It follows a team for an entire season, from the draft, to free agency, to the regular season, and through the playoffs. Never before has a camera crew with this size and reach chronicled an NFL team for an entire season (Showtime has begun doing this with a college football team, Notre Dame in 2015 and Florida State in 2016 with their A Season With series). All or Nothing provided a in depth look at the 2015 Arizona Cardinals season.
The 8 John Hamm narrated episodes were directed by Shannon Furman and Julia Harmon. Shannon Furman has experience in NFL documentaries working on Hard Knocks and Julia Harmon has helped create the DVDs sold at the end of each year breaking down the season of the Super Bowl winner. This show has high level production and access to an interesting and competitive team. Amazon is lucky that in their first year they followed a team that had compelling story lines with both rookies and veteran players, a charismatic coach, and a team that made it to the NFC Championship.
All or Nothing focuses on the family life, personality, and background or many players and coaches. Head coach Bruce Arians, general manager Steve Keim, and president Mike Bidwell received a lot of face time. Arians is exactly how I imagined him to be, an old school f-bomb dropping, tell it how it is, players coach. His history in coaching is interesting and will make a fascinating 30 for 30 or A Football Life documentary one day. His hard-assness came off as funny and charming at times while irrational in other moments. On the sidelines during a close game the defensive coordinator walked over to Arians and asked what he wanted him to call as the Cardinals were defending a 3rd and 20. Arians replied “blitz that mother fucker!” which was right on brand and turned out to be the right call as Freeney recorded a sack on the play.
His threats to cut Ted Larson after a late game false start, and the actual cutting of a practice squad player for parking in a season ticket holders spot was not cool. I hate it when coaches have zero tolerance and are hardcore towards low level players on the team. It is easy to cut a practice squad player for a little rule but there is no way he would have cut or threatened Carson Palmer if he had done the same thing.
Steve Keim was a little personality-less but was a huge part of the team’s success in creating a deep team that was able to overcome significant injuries.
Mike Bidwell was the annoying son of the owner who obviously made sure his dying stray dog that he adopted because he is such a good guy with a giant heart, received more screen time than other interesting players. This Bidwell dude was unbearable. He reminds me of my old bosses who were mid-level managers that only pretended to sound informed to feel like a part of the team. Every time Bidwell appeared on screen blubbering about his dog that had failing kidneys due to the expensive cancer treatment, or flying a plane while explaining his pilot credentials, or wearing a tight red suit at a Cardinals playoff rally, I got super bummer out. He appeared to be extremely fake and made strategic appearances to look good on camera.
The other players that received mini bio’s and screen time are Carson Palmer, David Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Chris Johnson, Mike Iupati, Lyle Sendlein, Tyrann Mathieu, Patrick Peterson, Corey Redding, Red Bryant, Dwight Freeney, and Calais Campbell. It was cool to learn more about these players and see a different more personal side of them, but there are some other players on the team that I wanted to learn about. Explosive wide receivers Jaron Brown, John Brown, and Michael Floyd were barely even acknowledged and Deone Bucannon who plays the hybrid safety/linebacker role was never mentioned.
David Johnson is a beast at running back being one of the fastest guys in the NFL while weighing 230 LB. Seeing his quiet and humble personal life with his fiancé and dog Emmitt was surprising. The monster on the field is a soft spoken boring guy off the field. One of my favorite parts of this series was in the first episode in the teams draft room. Keim and Arians wanted to select Ameer Abdullah at running back but he was taken by the Lions before he fell to the Cardinals. They then settled on Johnson in the third round who has already become a top 5 running back in the league.
It was interesting to listen to the coaches discuss the transition Fitzgerald made from outside receiver to the slot. A hall of fame receiver making that change so late in his career is rare and he excelled at it pancake blocking defenders and catching balls in tight linebacker filled spaces.
Carson Palmer is exactly who I thought he was. A boring, unemotional journey man quarterback. This series revealed nothing about Palmer other than he has a couple of kids that look just like him and that he uses VR during film study. He also appeared to be whiny when Arians called him out on mistakes during games, never really accepting full responsibility for his terrible throws. One of the coolest moments in the series involved Palmer at the end of the NFC Championship beat down by the Panthers. Arians asked Palmer if he wanted to take a knee and Palmer vehemently said no, not giving up easily.
Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu probably received the most screen time. Peterson is a loud rah-rah leader who competes with the QBs in their weekly throwing competition and forces his fellow defenders to come in on their day off to watch film. He also deals with being a type-2 diabetic and his wife gave birth to their first daughter. Pat P as his teammates call him is one of the best corners in the game and appeared to be genuine in his happy and jovial personality. Mathieu suffered a season ending injury on a meaningless play in a blowout win and he has a close relationship with Arians who took a chance on drafting him high in 2013 which was well chronicled in this series.
Three veterans were signed to the team who all played a major role in its success. Chris Johnson was signed right before the regular season and led the league in rushing until his season ending injury. He also surprised me in how meek and soft spoken he is off the field. His gold teeth and flashy playing style (he also got shot in the off season and seems to hang out with shady dudes) is not how he acts off the field.
Dwight Freeney was signed a few weeks into the season and immediately made an impact. He lead the team in sacks and used his spin move to destroy quarterbacks in pivotal moments in games. He learned after being signed that rookie linebacker Markus Golden did a project on him in the 8th grade.
Defensive tackle Red Bryant was signed in late November after Frostee Rucker went down with an injury. He help solidify the defensive line and was a motivating presence on the sidelines. The Cardinals called him the day before Thanksgiving and asked him to show up at the facility on the holiday to get a physical and try out for the team. Bryant came in on Thanksgiving and stated he only did so because it was the Cardinals who called which impressed Keim and the coaches.
Lame Documentary Clichés
For every awesome sound bite and behind the curtain look on the team, there was a filler cliché documentary hack scene. There were three montages that stuck out to me as being terrible. The first takes place after a lazy metaphorical speech the strength and conditioning coach gave to the team comparing their bodies to a high end car like a Bugatti. The high end car needs care and fancy gas just like the players need to maintain their bodies and watch what they eat. The scene then transitions to a work out montage where the players are lifting weights with the ham handed song about Bugatti’s played in the background.
Second is Carson Palmer working out with his young son in the gym. A song with the lyrics “I wanna be like you” is played while Palmers son lifts little weights. Third is when Rucker enters a water pool to rehab his knee, the scene turns to slow motion with a song with lyrics “throw me in the sea.”
Why are so many interviews done while the interviewee is driving? Is it to help characterize the person based on what car they drive? It is to make them look relatable? These are all over this series and I don’t know why they are a staple in documentaries.
A few of the interactions were transparently staged reality TV segments. Bruce Arians driving his boat during the bye week with country music playing in the background, and his conversation with his wife in the kitchen after black Monday are the ones that stand out.
The intro to every episode was also a little awkward. The epic sound with bulky graphics leading into the intro song and montage came after a “bad ass” or poignant line that was said by either a coach or player. Most of these sound clips were benign and actually made me laugh when they were followed by the intro music and treated as a wholly profound and intense remark.
All or Nothing
The first season of All or Nothing is a cool experience. Following a team from the draft through the playoffs is a satisfying journey and I grew close to the players and coaches in a similar way that I would in a scripted TV drama or movie. The turnover on NFL teams is massive every year and I felt bummed out when the team discussed that after their huge 45-15 loss to the Panthers knowing the team was going to look much different the next year.
This series is worth watching for the divisional playoff game against the Packers alone. The ending of that game is so dramatic and watching it from the lens of the documentarians with limitless access is very unique.
There is a lot of sad and lonely housewife talk from the players and coaches wives, an annoying PR propaganda campaign for team president Mike Bidwell, and corny montages and sound bites, but overall this is a well-made and revelatory series about an interesting and close knit team. All or Nothing offers a more extensive look on a team that tells the whole story for an entire season and is definitely worth watching.