The Vikings could be finding themselves on HBO this fall as part of the “Hard Knocks” series – whether they like it or not.
The series, a reality sports documentary show co-produced by HBO and NFL Films, has been in existence since 2001 and takes fans behind the curtain with players, coaches and staffs of NFL teams. There is typically a specific focus on rookies, typically a first-round draft pick with high expectations and an underdog type – a late-round or undrafted pick looking to beat the odds.
There have been 11 seasons of the show, which has included the Cincinnati Bengals twice (2009 and 2013), Dallas twice (2002 and 2008), as well as Baltimore (2001), Jacksonville (2004), Kansas City (2007), New York Jets (2010), Miami (2012) and Atlanta (2014). The series has run every year since 2007 – there weren’t seasons in 2003, 2005 and 2006, as well as the strike year of 2011.
For those familiar with the series, they got a quick tutorial on the sometimes salty language employed by Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, who got a lot of screen time during Cincinnati’s 2013 “Hard Knocks” experience.
The problem with the show has been that, in a sport based on subterfuge and secrecy, teams haven’t always liked the way they are portrayed or the level of access that outside media types have to the organization. In some cases, teams have complained that the camera crews were a distraction and that inside plans could be revealed that teams would have preferred to keep secret.
That problem came to a head in 2013, when the league and the “Hard Knocks” producers were turned down by five teams who they thought would make good subjects for the 2013 season – Atlanta, Houston, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington. It appeared as though there wouldn’t be a 2013 season of the show until Cincinnati stepped up to be on the show for the second time.
Commissioner Roger Goodell wasn’t pleased that so many teams had such a strong aversion to being profiled on the show. Following the 2013 debacle, Goodell said that he wanted to feature more new teams in the series, creating what he called a “formal rotation” of teams.
In July 2013, the league announced it had a signed a multiyear agreement (not specifying how many years there are in multiyear) to continue the series. But, in order to assure a season, the NFL has quietly outlined the requirements if a team doesn’t volunteer to be the one profiled.
In October 2013, the league outlined those teams who won’t have to participate by laying down three “get out of HBO free” cards – if you have a new head coach, if you have made the playoffs at least once in the last two seasons and if you have done the show at least once in the previous 10 years.
The fact that the league has had to come up with such criteria speaks to the problem of having unfettered access to players and coaches against the will of the owner, general manager or head coach. But the bigger problem is that, if nobody steps up and volunteers, we have a Texas Hold ‘Em final table of nine teams who are possibilities.
The Nervous Nine are the Vikings, Browns, Jaguars, Texans, Giants, Buccaneers, Titans, Rams and Redskins. Perhaps Jacksonville has it the worst because it already did a season (2004), but grandfathered out of protection because of the 10-year statute of limitations.
The decision as to what organization will take on a documentary crew to follow them like jungle cats on the hunt – seeing the good, the bad and the ugly – is going to be discussed at the spring owners meetings. If someone can’t be nudged, it could get dicey.
Miles of raw film footage is the last thing the Nervous Nine wants. Maybe Manziel Mania wins the day. Or the Rams leaving for “The Hills.” Or Mariota meets Tampa. The Vikings hope things are quiet on the northern front. Otherwise, the prying eyes of reality TV comes to Mankato.
Is that something the Vikings want? All things considered, not so much.
Eventually, the Vikings will draw the short straw. Until then, HBO has better things to do than come to Minnesota.
Could it be a 'Hard Knocks' life for Vikings?
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