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Examining Why The Bengals Chose To Do Hard Knocks Again

Some might say that HBO's Hard Knocks series is a distraction to the players. So why would the Bengals bring the attention and scrutiny onto a young team?


The Bengals became only the fourth team to participate in HBO and NFL Films' Hard Knocks series back in 2009. It was the most popular version yet, with ratings that measured 45% higher than the previous year's installment with the Dallas Cowboys.

The late Steve Sabol, former President of NFL Films, cited the Bengals' "unprecedented access and honesty" for the show's popularity and critical acclaim. Sabol explained that the Bengals only asked Sabol to edit something out of the show once:

"It was a play in the huddle with Jordan Palmer in the Rams game," Sabol said. "Marvin was afraid it gave away something with their audibles and so we cut it."

The spread of private information will always be a potential negative, but clearly the Bengals didn't seem worried about it in 2009. Another negative of the show is that it might bring the player's focus away from football.

These negatives have driven many teams around the league away from the show. No team agreed to do Hard Knocks before the 2011 season, when the lockout cast uncertainty across the league. Last year, the Falcons, Broncos, Texans, 49ers, Seahawks, and Redskins all turned down Hard Knocks, before the Miami Dolphins finally accepted. This year, the Seahawks and Chargers both said no, and as we pointed out last week, the announcements in previous years all came before June 2.

In accepting NFL Films' offer for the second time in the last five years, the Bengals appear to be expressing confidence in the ability and focus of their young players. Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer expects that there won't be an official announcement until next week, or "two weeks at the latest". So, we looked back at the original 2009 press conference, to find why the Bengals agreed to do it back then.

In the press conference, Lewis repeatedly mentioned the maturity of the players as a primary reason for accepting Sabol's offer.

"I think we've got a mature group of guys that are fighting for jobs. I think that's the interesting part of it, and the test of it. They won't notice the cameras if they do what they are supposed to be doing. We know that they will follow guys and feature players, but I think we are mature enough."

Lewis also explained that he had turned down Sabol before a previous season.

Steve has approached me with this before, and we didn't come to the same conclusion. This time, I did, because I think we are at a different step in our team's maturity and where we are, and I think it's great for our fans.

Another reason that Lewis and the Bengals accepted the offer is simply to showcase and bring more attention to the team. It goes without saying that Hard Knocks will put more fans in the seats.

"We're excited for the opportunity to showcase our football team and how we go about it and the preparation for this season... But ultimately, at the end of the day, we want this room [the media room] to be packed for seventeen Sundays like this."

Lastly, the effect of the cameras. Sometimes they weaken people with stage fright. But, Lewis points out the urgency that the cameras bring, having seen it before when Hard Knocks was with the Ravens in 2001.

"It's a good opportunity, having been through it before, I think there comes some urgency in a lot of people, and I think that's a good thing. Training camp is urgent."

Sabol agreed and added that he thinks the cameras increase tempo. He also chimed in with his own anecdote about how Vince Lombardi "used the cameras to get even more out of the players".

"By having the cameras at training camp, it raises the tempo. It raises the level of training camp. I noticed that when I was a cameraman back in the sixties and I was filming with the Green Bay Packers. The last day, we had shot enough film, and I was just sitting on the sidelines when Lombardi came up to me and said 'What the hell are you doing? Get up and pretend you are filming, I don't give a damn whether you are shooting or not, but if the players think that you are filming, when the eyes of the world are on someone, they're not going to loaf through the drills."

The Bengals did Hard Knocks back in 2009 to win the fans back after a miserable 2008 season. So, why in 2013? Maybe it's just to add even more excitement and interest to a young, blossoming team about to go on a Super Bowl run. Yeah, that's it.