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Hard Knocks: Bengal Style

Bengals Camp Football
Several media outlets reported this week that the Bengals are the leading candidate for 2009’s incarnation of the HBO/NFL Films series Hard Knocks. The annual reality-TV mini-series follows an NFL franchise through the trials and tribulations of training camp, examining the human drama that manifests itself as roster spots are earned, fortunes are made, and dreams are dashed under the blazing summer sun.

The Ravens, Cowboys, Jaguars, and Chiefs have all been featured in previous years with varying degrees of dramatic interest. As a football fan, the show provides an intimate look into the operation of an NFL team and the unique personalities that create it. For the featured squad however, it provides an unneeded distraction at a time when building focus and continuity is paramount.

Why the Bengals? Certainly NFL Films knows their business. The Bengals do make a good choice. While they don’t boast the national fan following or name recognition of the Cowboys or the recent playoff success of the Ravens or Jaguars, they do offer plenty of hooks. The organization has been a punch line for years; first for their consistent failure on the field, and more recently for their knack for acquiring players with legal problems.

Fans of the other 31 teams are likely to tune in for the comedic value alone. Can you imagine a film crew following Chris Henry around Georgetown, Kentucky at 3:00 AM? Add to that a small familial organizational hierarchy, a Heisman winning, franchise quarterback, a side-show diva at wide receiver and a impatient coach on the hot seat, and there are enough potential story lines to make Steve Sabol feel like a kid at Christmas.

But as a Bengals fan, what good can come of this? While I’ll admit to enjoying the thought of watching the behind-the-scenes details, I am firmly against the move. The negatives far outweigh the positives. The team desperately needs a good start to the season. This team needs to show early on that it has matured and grown up and is ready to challenge the more established teams in the division, let alone the AFC.

It is a difficult feat to accomplish obviously, judging by past experience. Adding a camera and a boom microphone to every meeting and practice and locker room speech seems an unneeded and unwelcomed complication.

It is no secret that this team has shown that it is not mature enough to handle even the slightest distractions or smallest adversities. Marvin Lewis has recently pointed this out himself, and made a concerted effort to improve upon the maturity and professionalism in the locker room. In some regards I think he’s succeeded, and I hope it continues.

Nonetheless, even with the best of intentions and the most meticulous planning, dangers loom. Chad Ochocinco will require constant fawning, Chris Henry will require constant supervision, and there’s the inherent risk associated with having Tank Johnson, Cedric Benson, Jason Shirley, Leon Hall, Andre Smith, and Bernard Scott on the roster. And that’s just the players. We fans often watch the team’s dealings and wonder if the brass has any clue as to what their doing. Would we really want to see our worst fears confirmed in vivid HD?

On the bright side, Lewis and Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer both have experience with the show and should know how to handle it. The leadership of good-guy players like Carson Palmer, Dhani Jones and Laverneus Coles could push the team to the next level with cameras rolling. Rey Maualuga could become the defensive playmaker the team has missed for years. Chad might just be a good teammate for once.

The Browns and the Blackburns could prove that they actually know a thing or two about football. In fact, we could look back on this and be glad that we got such a unique opportunity to witness the birth of a magical and memorable season.

Stranger things have happened. After all, Arizona went to the Super Bowl. But I suspect that as Hollywood descends upon Georgetown this July, I’ll be wishing they were doing the Steelers instead.


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