Since apparently there’s little chance that anything else of consequence will be able to be produced or promoted in the next few weeks, if not month, it was all the more poignant that it was on the same day where Hollywood was simultaneously struck by both writers and actors for the first time since 1960 that HBO announced that they were turning to a team born in that year to provide some sort of reason to at least download, if not, watch content in the interim. Reported DEADLINE’s Dade Hayes earler this week:
The New York Jets and their high-profile new quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, will be the focus of this year’s installment of HBO’s long-running Hard Knocks, according to multiple media reports.
The show, which documents a month of training camp action both on and off the field in the runup to the start of the regular season in September, last centered on the Jets in 2010. Coincidentally (or not), that was the last year the team made the playoffs, the longest active drought of any NFL club. Optimism about the Jets has surged since the offseason signing of Rodgers, a four-time MVP and Super Bowl champion during 18 seasons with the Green Bay Packers. Rodgers in recent weeks has been a visible presence around New York City, attending last month’s Tony Awards as well as Knicks and Rangers playoff games.
That 2010 series was one of the few things I had to look forward to that summer, deep into my first prolonged sojourn as a “consultant”. I fondly remember how it chronicled intense negotiations with Darrelle Revis at a diner I used to frequent on Route 17 on a road between New York City and the upstate college town of Cortland where the Jets conducted training camp at the time. How it elevated the profile and presence of Rex Ryan to a cross between John Madden and Rodney Dangerfield, enough so that even now that he’s lost both his employability and a substantial amount of weight he remains a must-see TV personality.
And given that the Jets now conduct their training in a New Jersey suburb best known for overpriced kosher delis, someone with Rodgers’ pre-existing celebrity stature and ability to make news is highly desirable to a promotion-obsessed league and a platform even more desperate for attention than usual. As Hayes reminds, Rodgers has proven he alone is more than capable of attracting attention:
Although he is being hailed as a potential savior of a franchise with just one Super Bowl appearance in its 64-year history (an upset win over the Baltimore Colts in 1969), Rodgers is also a controversial figure who has led almost as many news cycles as touchdown drives. One memorable dustup concerned the QB’s Covid vaccination status. When asked by a reporter in 2021 if he had been vaccinated, a requirement that year in the league, he replied that he had been “immunized.” While the answer placated the press in the moment, word later emerged that Rodgers had been referring to non-traditional preventative measures and had not actually gotten the shot. He later contracted Covid and had to sit out for a game.
And apparently, Rodgers is already voicing how he feels about this sort of attention to the local media that will undoubtedly be providing sound bites and coverage for this experience. Just this week, NJ.com’s Bridget Hyland dropped this little nugget:
It’s not a big surprise that the the Jets have been selected to serve as this year’s team on HBO’s “Hard Knocks.” But it’s the first time in his 18-year career that Aaron Rodgers will appear on the show as it follows training camp with his new team. Rodgers shared his feelings about the show to Vern Glenn of KPIX while being interviewed at the American Century Championship in Lake Tahoe.
“Listen,” Rodgers said. “One of the only things I like about ‘Hard Knocks’ is the voice of God who narrates it, Liev (Schreiber), I hope I get to meet him. But look, I understand the appeal with us. There’s a lot of eyes on me, eyes on our team, a lot of expectations for our squad. They forced it down our throats and we’ve got to deal with it.”
And unlike his predecessor Ryan, who was and is a sound-bite addict, current coach Robert Saleh is anything but enthusiastic himself:
The Jets don’t have veto power with this and ProFootballTalk has reported that the league “apparently will not be listening to the preferences” of any team… “I know there are several teams that would love for ‘Hard Knocks’ to be in their building. We’re just not one of them,” Saleh said.
Yesterday, on the heels of the stories announcing HBO’s presence, one potential mirror to the Revis contract drama was averted when star defensive tackle Quinnen Williams received a $96 million contract, with $66 million guaranteed, making him the second highest-paid DT in AAV in the league, behind only the Rams’ Aaron Donald. Donald won a Super Bowl a year ago, Williams hasn’t yet played in a playoff game.
If indeed the Jets, who had built up strong expectations last year before a devastating season-ending injury to star rookie running back Breece Hall and the revelation that the prior year’s top draft pick Zach Wilson was merely fool’s gold that necessitated the Jets’ desperate embracing of Rodgers, don’t show immediate signs if progress, it will likely inflame a New York press that thrives on negativity.
As luck would have it, the Jets actually kick off the pre-season with the Hall of Fame game a week ahead of the rest of the league, meaning HARD KNOCKS’ usual cycle of camp-only stories leading up to pre-season will be accelerated by a week. That game is a de facto road game against the Cleveland Browns in the Tom Benson stadium adjacent to the Hall in nearby Canton, where DeShaun Watson and a franchise that has even fewer Super Bowl wins (zero) than do the Jets await. In the 25th anniversary season of this expansion version of the team that hasn’t even matched the number of post-season wins that Ryan’s crew achieved. And it’s gonna take place live on NBC and Peacock.
No doubt Rodgers will have thoughts. Watson’s own controversy should add to the powderkeg. And August in Canton can be especially uncomfortable just weather-wise.
In other words, the perfect ingredients for HBO.
But unless the AMPTP actually sits down and has reasonable negotiations with the striking writers and actors before HARD KNOCKS is scheduled to premiere, which would be the week immediately following that Hall of Fame game, I’m not gonna watch. The only way creatives I care about have any chance at all at making headway against the likes of WBD head David Zaslav and his tone-deaf Wall Street-slavish peers to make a living is for people to stop watching their platforms. I have zero doubt that between sports and entertainment websites I’ll know whatever plot lines of consequence emerge in this case.
And it sounds like if you actually do like Rodgers, or respect the earnest young coach Saleh, you might actually be doing them a favor by avoiding watching the show yourself.
But I will be curious how this training camp does unfold. Especially if someone decides to hold a mock game of JEOPARDY! for a team bonding exercise. I do have my catnips.