As training camps are well underway and the first slate of preseason games are coming up for a football-filled weekend, the annual showing of HBO’s Hard Knocks is also kicking off this Tuesday night, following the Dallas Cowboys throughout training camp in lead up to the regular season. As a die-hard football fan, I tune in this series every year to watch the featured team and see what players stand out at training camp, the interaction with the coaching staff and front office, and also get a feel for which backend players on the roster may get cut from the team or earn a roster spot. Seeing as Dallas played the Steelers in the Hall of Fame Game last Thursday, there will likely be some airtime from that preseason game showing some of the players we have highlighted here on Steelers Depot in their initial action of the 2021 preseason.
This topic got me thinking, “Would Steelers fans want to have Pittsburgh featured on Hard Knocks?” My initial thought was “Of course!” What fan of a team wouldn’t want to have more exposure to their favorite players the way the television series provides over the course of the preseason in lead up for regular season play? Fans of the Steelers would be able to better understand the personalities of the star players on the team like Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Heyward, and Minkah Fitzpatrick.
The series would highlight the contract negotiations between T.J. Watt and the team, something we on the outside can only speculate on at this point. The series would also highlight new players like rookie sensation Najee Harris and his inaugural season in the Black and Gold as well as center Kendrick Green and his journey from the college game to the professional level as he attempts to fill the shoes of All-Pro Maurkice Pouncey. Couple that with positional battles with young guys like Shakur Brown, Mark Gilbert, Quincy Roche, and Jamir Jones to name a few battling for roster spots, and you have a spectacle that the great Dave Bryan would gravitate to like pop culture gravitates to The Bachelor.
However, there are some cons that come with the possibility of the Steelers being featured on Hard Knocks. First, it is written in the show’s contract that they can only follow a team that did not make the playoffs the previous season. Therefore, say the Steelers were to be the chosen team in 2022, you can kiss their playoff aspirations in 2021 goodbye.
Second, it is well-known that there is a “Hard Knocks curse” that exists in relation to the teams that are featured on the series and the overall result of their season. A total of 15 teams have appeared on “Hard Knocks” since the NFL training camp documentary series debuted in 2001, with the Cowboys, Bengals, and Rams each having been featured on the show twice. Of those 15 teams, seven went on to finish their seasons with winning records, with a few making deep playoff runs. Most recently, the Los Angeles Chargers and Rams were featured in the 2020 season, with the Rams making it to the Divisional Round of the playoffs and the Chargers finishing with a losing record and out of playoff contention. In fact, the Rams were the first team since 2015 to be on the show and make the playoffs, as the Raiders in 2019, Browns in 2018, Buccaneers in 2017, and Rams in 2016 all failed to record a winning season and make the postseason.
Along with this lack of success in the win department, teams that have been featured on the show often complain about the intrusiveness the series can have on personal space, having cameras in your face all day both at the facility and even at home in some cases. Many coaches have expressed their feelings about the rift the show could potentially create in a football, including Mike Tomlin himself back in 2019 when the team was coming off of down year after losing Ben Roethlisberger to an elbow injury in Week 2, being one of the primary candidates to be featured on the 2020 edition of the show.
Tomlin stated in the same press conference that a team hardly ever is “asked” to be featured on the series, but rather told that they will be featured on the series whether they like it or not. Much to the likely pleasure of Tomlin, GM Kevin Colbert, and owner Art Rooney II, the Steelers are the last remaining AFC North team to not be featured on the HBO show.
Looking back at previous editions of the show, I can understand why it wouldn’t be very appealing to have a bunch of cameras and hot microphones crawling around the team facility and following several key players and coaching staff members home during the course of training camp. The show highlighted the Antonio Brown debacle with the Raiders, the contract situation between the Jets and Darrelle Revis, the discord amongst the coaching staff in Cleveland with Hue Jackson at the helm, and also serious injuries to players like Derwin James for the Chargers last season and the impact it can have on a team’s morale heading into the season. While not every season has had the same issues as others, I can understand the potential headaches the show can create and how not having this exposure could be a breath of fresh air for players and coaches alike going through the rigors of training camp.
So, let’s say the postseason stipulation was eliminated and the Pittsburgh Steelers could be featured on Hard Knocks in 2022 while making the playoffs this season. Would you personally want to see the team featured on the series? What would make you hesitant to have the team on the show, and if they were chosen, what specific topics/players would you most want to see highlighted in lead up to the regular season? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!