In 2001, HBO, in close conjunction with Steve Sabol and the NFL, launched what is considered in their words, “the first sports-based reality series” in television history. The show, aptly named ‘Hard Knocks,’ follows a professional football team over the course of the offseason, covering angles from training camp battles to the personal lives of the players to the adjustment of rookies from the college game to the NFL. The first edition consisted of six, one-hour episodes, and covered the Baltimore Ravens in their post Super Bowl winning offseason. The second followed the Dallas Cowboys in a year where Emmitt Smith was vying to become the NFL’s all-time leading rusher.
Following the 2002 season, Hard Knocks didn’t air again until 2007, this time featuring the Kansas City Chiefs. This was in large part because really, which coach wants a camera crew documenting his practices, inside the locker room, personal meetings, etc? The interest on the part of the teams was lacking, so much so that 2008’s edition once again featured the Cowboys, a team with big personalities that quite frankly, made for good TV.
Going forward, that seemed to be the game plan for the league as they looked to feature dysfunctional teams, with outspoken players and big off season stories. Included was chronicling Chad Ochocinco and the 2009 Cincinnati Bengals, Rex Ryan and the 2010 New York Jets and Chad Ochocinco and the 2012 Miami Dolphins. Two of these three editions were nominated for and won, the Sports Emmy Award for Outstanding Edited Sports Series or Anthology.
The 2013 season, which again featured the Bengals was highlighted by the first five teams the NFL asked declining to appear and its perfectly done angle in which James Harrison has issues with the camera crews at training camp. Imagine how much of a shocker that one was. A player actually had a problem being followed around by a series of cameras that were always on. Bet the NFL wasn’t counting on that happening…
Following 2013, the NFL, despite having issues finding teams to participate, signed a multi-year extension with HBO to continue producing the show. Of course, it made sense. The NFL was still making money off of Hard Knocks. Why would they stop it? Surely they could convince, er ‘force,’ teams to participate right?
And that’s how it happened. Roger Goodell, striving to see more of the league’s 32 teams featured, announced that one team each year would be required to participate. Teams would still be allowed to volunteer to be on the program but if no such team did, the NFL would appoint one. The only way out was if the team met one of the following three conditions:
- They had hired a new coach
- They had been in the playoffs at least once in the past two years
- They had done the show at least once in the past 10 years
Otherwise, the NFL had given itself the right to force a team into the situation of having to appear on the show, because, that is obviously fair.
And this is where the Philadelphia Eagles come in.
You can bet that the NFL and HBO would love, love, love to follow Chip Kelly and the Eagles around at training camp. Hell, they probably were salivating at the possibility of doing so this year what with the racist angle, the Tim Tebow signing, the insanity of a Kelly practice, the high profile trades. Seriously, the Eagles would have been phenomenal for the show’s ratings. Unfortunately for both HBO and the NFL, the team made the playoffs in 2013 and therefore met the exemption. Otherwise, you could almost guarantee they would have been chosen over the Houston Texans.
The worst part is, Kelly wouldn’t be able to decline if he wanted to, and anyone who knows anything about the Eagles knows that he is the last coach who would want to have his every move followed by a camera crew.
But the NFL is in fact running out of teams. Excluding whatever this year’s postseason results are, there are only 15 teams left in play for 2016 including the Eagles. And those 14 other teams are perennial bottom feeders such as the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns. At least one of them is likely to fall into the ‘new coach’ exemption and none of them seem to have any sort of intriguing story line to follow. They’ve always been last, they’ll always be last. Seriously, how does that make for good TV?
The Eagles on the other hand, if they fail to make the playoffs this year, are ideal. For one, Philadelphia is a major city with a major spotlight on its sports teams. For another, Kelly will likely be in his make or break year, the one that determines if he really can be an NFL coach or if he returns to the college game. And third, there are the personalities. I mean, Tebow alone, if he is around in 2016, makes the Eagles prime candidates. The media can’t get enough of the guy.
But whatever happens, the Eagles do have destiny in their own hands. If they make the playoffs, they are off the hook. If they don’t, well, don’t be surprised if you see a camera crew setting up on Lincoln Financial Field and at the Novacare Complex next year.