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Despite Criticism, Hard Knocks is Still Special TV

“It is not merely a sports television show; it is a star creator.”

John Molori

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Hard Knocks Jets 2023
Courtesy: National Football League, Warner Bros. Discovery

It has become a staple of summer football viewing. HBO’s Hard Knocks is not just your typical behind-the-scenes look at an NFL franchise and the characters that make up its roster. On the contrary, it’s become a culturally iconic rite of football passage. 

While NFL Films has been around for decades showing us the grit and realism of NFL football, Hard Knocks has taken this to another level. It is not merely a sports television show; it is a star creator. Heretofore unknown players and coaches have become superstars via this program. 

Middle or lower-end roster players have developed into fan favorites. This is the place where personalities like Tony Siragusa, Chad Johnson, Rex Ryan, Gerald McCoy, Mike Westoff, and dozens of others have emerged from their helmets or headsets and taken over the psyche of the summer football fan. 

Traditional NFL game coverage gives us a myriad of camera angles, replays, and analysis. NFL Films has shown the icy cold breath of Minnesota and the sweaty hot sun of Miami, but Hard Knocks did something more. 

It is where football becomes soap opera. Call it All My Linebackers, One Life to Kick, or The Large and the Restless. There is also a lot of General Hospital, focusing on players whose training camp injuries compromise their opportunities to make the team. 

The week-to-week highs and lows of summer training camp are showcased in an incredibly entertaining manner. Hard Knocks follows the miniseries format that defines the NFL season itself. There is much anticipation leading into every episode, and the cliffhanger philosophy is used to the utmost degree. 

Which players will be cut this week? Who will emerge from the roster cluster to become a star? What swear words will this coach use next? It’s the place where phrases like Rex Ryan’s 2010 memorable post-tirade line, “Let’s go eat a goddamn snack!” have forged their way into the lexicon of the NFL. 

Hard Knocks is a buffet of joy for the football fan. It is entertaining in a most unique way with camera angles, candid conversations, microphones, soundbites, and video footage from the locker room and dormitories.

Moreover, at-home shots of the players with their wives and families have become a staple of this much-anticipated program. Tune in and you will meet moms, dads, brothers, sisters, girlfriends, wives, and an array of player entourages.

We are all suckers for a good story, and there are multiple stories and characters within every episode of Hard Knocks. Last year’s edition featuring the Detroit Lions was fraught with examples. 

Who can forget running back Jamaal Williams’ tearful post-practice speech to teammates? Who can forget Head Coach Dan Campbell doing up/downs with his players or giving us quotes like, “Doesn’t matter if you have one ass cheek and three toes, I will beat your ass!”

It is clear that Hard Knocks is an absolute touchdown for viewers, but is it the best thing for a team to do when the ultimate goal should be the playoffs and Super Bowl?

2023 marks the 18th edition of the 18-time Sports Emmy-winning series. This summer, Hard Knocks features the new look and chic preseason playoff pick New York Jets. The team has a shiny new quarterback, well actually, a shiny old quarterback, perennial All-Pro Aaron Rodgers. 

Their nosy camera crews will invade Jest Training Camp in Florham Park, N.J. to chronicle Robert Saleh’s quest to get the team back to the playoffs for the first time since 2010, the NFL’s current longest drought. 

The first episode premieres August 8 on HBO. In addition to Rodgers, the Jets are loaded with characters who could become this year’s Hard Knocks darlings – Garrett Wilson, Sauce Gardner, C.J. Mosley, and Quinnen Williams just to name a few.

With more than 130 Emmy Awards, NFL Films remains the driving force behind the power of Hard Knocks. But remember, this is an NFL production. There will be no footage shown that Commissioner Roger Goodell does not want you to see. NFL Films is a part of NFL Media which also includes NFL Network, the NFL App, NFL.com and NFL RedZone.

Hard Knocks has expanded its reach with a multi-episode edition during the NFL season called Hard Knocks: In Season. The weekly series delivers the same all access coverage following a team throughout the grind of the season. Last year, the Arizona Cardinals were featured.

It has long been debated what impact Hard Knocks has on a featured NFL team. Is it a good move for a franchise? Certainly, many teams have thrived after being featured on the show. Others, not so much. In 2001, the Baltimore Ravens were coming off a Super Bowl winning season but lost in the Divisional round of the playoffs. 

The 2002 Cowboys limped to a 5-11 season. In 2007, the Chiefs appeared on Hard Knocks and wound up with a 4-12 finish. The 2012 Dolphins were 7-9. Their stint on Hard Knocks featured the dramatic and unexpected release of WR Chad Johnson after being arrested for a domestic dispute. The 2016 Rams went 4-12. The 2017 Bucs went 5-11, and the 2020 Chargers finished 7-9.

The 2019 Raiders had that same 7-9 record, but their Hard Knocks stint was one of the most memorable. 

Highlighted by the wacky behavior of wide receiver Antonio Brown, who was released and signed by New England during the series, the Raiders featured many characters including Johnathan Abram, Vontaze Burfict, Derek Carr, Maxx Crosby, Clelin Ferrell, Richie Incognito, and now-exiled head coach Jon Gruden.

One of the main constants in the ever changing world of Hard Knocks has been narrator Liev Schreiber. The multiple time Emmy-nominated actor brings drama to the proceedings. 

A Screen Actors Guild Award winner, Schreiber’s stage and screen chops are vivid in his voice. He brings a level of anticipation, foreboding, joy, and anticipation to every frame and sequence. If you were to hire someone to narrate your life, Schreiber would be the guy.

Sadly, the 2023 edition of Hard Knocks will be unlike others. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the Jets will not allow cameras to show players being released from the team. He said that the team felt that such footage is “inhumane.” 

Schefter also reported that many members of the organization, including Rodgers and Saleh, were not thrilled with the team being featured on the show. Time will tell, but less footage and unhappy key individuals do not seem to be a good recipe for a supposedly all-access show. 

In addition, Pat McAfee recently opined that with increased team social media platforms, there is no need for Hard Knocks. I see his point but tend to disagree with his assertion. NFL teams provide little insight or vital information on their social media sites. It is very closely regulated and controlled. 

Despite the changes and criticisms, there is still something special about the weekly saga that Hard Knocks provides. Starting August 8, NFL fans will be able to check out the backrooms and back-biting that is inherent in the cutthroat world of professional football. Sit back, relax, and enjoy. Who knows, maybe Rex Ryan will bring you a snack.

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Rob Manfred: Diamond Sports Group Has ‘No Plan at This Point’

“They don’t have a deal with the NBA, they don’t have a deal with the NHL, and they don’t have a deal with us.”

Barrett Sports Media

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Rob Manfred
Courtesy: Jonathan Dyer, USA TODAY Sports

Diamond Sports Group recently reached a deal for carriage renewal with FuboTV, securing distribution of the Bally Sports-branded regional sports networks through the platform. In recent months, Diamond Sports Group has completed carriage renewals with Charter, Cox and DirecTV, but it has still been unable to reach an agreement with Comcast, which is said to provide 80% of the company’s revenue. As Diamond Sports Group seeks to enter Ch. 11 bankruptcy, there has been concern addressed by Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League pertaining to the viability of the company.

The Sinclair subsidiary was approved for $450 million in debtor-in-possession finance as it seeks to actualize a proposed restructuring. The allocation of such remuneration will be $350 million to pay its first-lien debt holders. Additional funds therein will be transferred the remainder to the company balance sheet. Under the terms of the proposed restructuring agreement, Diamond would continue to broadcast regional games while also accepting investment from Amazon, which agreed to pay $115 million in convertible notes upon the conclusion of the bankruptcy. Junior creditors would then assume operations of the subsidiary.

On Thursday, Diamond Sports Group filed a motion with the Houston bankruptcy court overseeing the case to propose a 41-day extension for the confirmation hearing. Although it was not listed in the document, granting such modifications would presumably allow more time for Diamond and Comcast to try and reach terms on an agreement. If the alteration is granted, Diamond’s confirmation hearing would take place on Monday, July 29. The company is also in the process of trying to negotiate deals with the NBA and NHL.

Following the conclusion of an MLB owners’ meeting in New York, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred addressed the ambiguity surrounding the future of Diamond Sports Group. Bally Sports-branded regional sports networks have not been broadcast by Comcast since the end of April, something MLB counsel James Bromley called “devastating” with several teams “facing substantial problems” as a result.

Manfred is not yet sure about the league’s support pertaining to Diamond Sports Group’s reorganization plan, but he still expects the company to carry regional games for the 12 MLB teams for which it has rights through the conclusion of the 2024 season. Major League Baseball continues to produce and disseminate games for the San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks as it did last summer, along with the Colorado Rockies after AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain ceased operations at the end of last year.

“It’s hard to comment on whether we’re going to object or not because there is no plan at this point,” Manfred said. “Their whole plan is, you know, ‘We’re going to get deals with distributors…. We’re going to continue with the other leagues.’ They don’t have a deal with the NBA, they don’t have a deal with the NHL, and they don’t have a deal with us.”

MLB looks to develop its own streaming platform and has reportedly had discussions about nationalizing television rights for games. In testimony last year, Manfred recalled a meeting between him and Sinclair Broadcast Group executive chairman David Smith. Smith asked Manfred to grant the company direct-to-consumer broadcast rights to bolster its Bally Sports Plus app, to which Manfred replied that it would not happen, and that people cannot always get what they want. In response, Smith said that he would squeeze clubs to diminish rights fees to make sure he stayed profitable in the RSN business. If they did not agree to that, he explained that he would put Diamond Sports Group into bankruptcy and then selectively reject contracts.

“Right now we’re really focused on the strategic part,” Manfred said. “How is it that we respond to the changes in the local media environment in a way that increases our reach and fan access to our games? We’d like to get into a model where whether you’re a dinosaur cable person like I am or a digital person, there is a frictionless opportunity to watch the game that you want to watch.”

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Erin Andrews: Tom Brady Will Be ‘Amazing’ as ‘NFL on FOX’ Broadcaster

“Everybody’s worried about the commentating. I’m just like, ‘The guy’s skin. I have to deal with this, him being on my crew.’”

Barrett Sports Media

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Tom Brady
Courtesy: Ethan Miller, Getty Images

Although the start of the National Football League regular season schedule of games is still several months away, there is palpable anticipation and excitement towards the proceedings. The lead broadcast crew for the NFL on FOX broadcast will include seven-time Super Bowl champion and former NFL quarterback Tom Brady as the color commentator alongside play-by-play announcer Kevin Burkhardt and reporters Erin Andrews and Tom Rinaldi. At the same time, Andrews is continuing her podcast, Calm Down with Erin and Charissa, with co-host and FOX Sports colleague Charissa Thompson on the iHeart Podcast Network. Both Andrews and Thompson appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on NBC Thursday night to discuss the podcast and how the idea came about.

Thompson explained that she remembers being nervous working on her first day as a member of the FOX Sports team. As she was walking through the door on campus, she remembers Andrews running out to give her a hug and inform her that she would be there for her for anything she needed. When the pandemic hit, Andrews remembered thinking that everyone had a podcast and that they should try to do it. Since launching the show, it has rapidly grown with candid conversation, celebrity interviews and live events.

“You’re crushing it,” Fallon said. “It’s so great; it’s so fun to listen to you guys. I’ve heard you with, I think Derek Jeter was one of those [guests].”

Fallon wanted to know what Andrews and Thompson thought about having Brady join the FOX Sports broadcast team for the upcoming NFL season, which will culminate with Super Bowl LIX from Caesars Superdome in New Orleans, La. Andrews replied by stating that they have spoken to him in person and then asked Fallon if he had ever been around him, to which he replied that he had. Fallon articulated that Brady is good at everything, bringing up being good looking and his skill in golf as two examples, something that he finds annoying.

“And that’s the biggest thing,” Andrews said. “Everybody’s worried about the commentating. I’m just like, ‘The guy’s skin. I have to deal with this, him being on my crew.’ I know because we talk about it a lot on our podcast.”

Andrews later shared that she believes Brady will be amazing in the broadcast booth for his inaugural season, beginning with his debut on Sunday, Sept. 8 when the Dallas Cowboys face the Cleveland Browns at 4:25 p.m. EST. The schedule for games televised by FOX Sports includes several marquee NFC teams throughout the year, along with a rivalry game between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers in late December.

“His résumé supports that he’s great at everything he does,” Thompson said, “so why would this be any different?”

Fallon reminisced on attending a basketball game with Brady in the past, recollecting that Brady knew the game was over despite there being time left. It turned out that Brady was correct, being able to decipher the score and probability that the opponent would come back from the deficit. Brady’s adept sports knowledge and ability to discuss the nuances of the game is a sentiment understood and concurred by Andrews and Thompson.

“I’ve sat with him [at] lunch before and he’s been telling stories about his career, and it’s like stuff we just die for,” Andrews said. “Love the inside information, right, and you’re hearing all the stuff you just always wanted to know, and my knee was just bouncing and bouncing and bouncing.”

“And then you get Julian Edelman, who’s on the show I host with him, and Rob Gronkowski,” Thompson added. “You get those three together – the three amigos – hilarity ensues.”

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Jim Ross Hospitalized, Will Miss AEW Double or Nothing

He has been dealing with the flu, raised heart enzymes and trouble breathing.

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Photo of AEW announcer Jim Ross
Courtesy: All Elite Wrestling

Legendary wrestling announcer Jim Ross will miss this weekend’s AEW pay-per-view event, Double or Nothing in Las Vegas as he was hospitalized on Thursday with shortness of breath. Ross said on his X account that he had to make an unexpected visit to the ER. He told Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer he has been dealing with the flu, raised heart enzymes and trouble breathing. Meltzer said Ross expects to be fine within a few days.

Ross, 72, has been making limited appearances for AEW of late and recently has only been appearing on pay-per-views. He recently signed a one-year contract to remain with AEW.

Ross has had a few medical issues over the last few years which have forced him to miss time. In 2021 he was treated for skin cancer and about a year ago a fall led to him stepping away for a bit.

Ross recently had a new book published, Business Is About to Pick Up! which chronicles 50 of his best calls from his 5-decade career in the wrestling business. Ross also hosts a weekly podcast, Grilling JR.

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