Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis wants to win a Lombardi Trophy for his team someday. Until then, the trophy that sat next to him on Thursday at a press conference at Paul Brown Stadium will have to do.
Four years ago, television viewers and football fans around the country got to see a side of the Bengals they had never seen — players being cut before the crack of dawn, Lewis giving his “Be a pro” speech after an exhibition game and tight end Reggie Kelly weeping in the training room after suffering a season-ending injury — as the team was featured on HBO’s “Hard Knocks.” The show was so good that year it won an Emmy Award for outstanding edited sports series.
Ross Ketover, a producer of the behind-the-scenes series for NFL Films, said the late Steve Sabol wanted to deliver the Emmy to the Bengals in person but wasn’t able to do so before he died last September. On Thursday, Ketover gave Lewis the Emmy, and he and the coach talked about the Bengals appearing on the series a second time when training camp begins next week.
“We’re excited to be back,” Ketover said. “They were a playoff team back when we were here four years ago, and they’re a playoff team again now. But we looked at it, and it really is a totally different team. The quality is still just as good, and it’s a totally new roster. For us, that summer, I think, took the series to a new level. So we’re thrilled to be back here.”
This is the eighth season of “Hard Knocks” since 2001, and the Bengals and Cowboys are the only teams to be featured twice.
Most of the Bengal players featured in 2009, most notably Carson Palmer and Chad Johnson, have moved on, and that was one reason Lewis agreed to do the show again.
“It is a lot different football team,” Lewis said. “There’s very few players on this squad that were here in ’09 so there’s a lot of interesting positions, some battles that we’re going to have. There’s been quite a bit of change. At the end of the day, the organization felt a trust with NFL Films and how things would be and to go ahead and go forth with it and join together with them as well.”
The series will premier Aug. 6 on HBO and will air at 10 p.m. on Tuesdays. There are five one-hour shows in all. Ketover said for every hour that airs, 400 hours of unused footage doesn’t make the cut.
Five camera crews will be at training camp around the clock, and there are also eight robotic cameras set up in offices and meeting rooms.
Lewis has the right to review the shows before they air and ask HBO to cut scenes, but he’s mostly worried about other teams seeing the show and gaining insight into his team’s game plans. It’s unlikely he would ask for an emotional scene to be cut, even if it’s painful to watch. Many of the most compelling scenes in 2009 featured players fighting for jobs, making the team or getting cut.
“And that is what has resonated most with fans,” Ketover said. “Everyone thinks being an NFL player is the greatest job in the world, but they don’t realize how hard it is and that 30 percent of the work force gets released each year, which is uncommon for anything other than sports. It shows what a difficult process it is for players and how it humanizes players.”