Recently, I spent most of my Sunday watching football. I mean really watching. The kind of paying attention where I'm thinking about the plays being called and listening to the commentators. I'm sure my dad would like to think that his years of talking to me about football scores have finally paid off, but I really owe my newly discovered interest to HBO's “Hard Knocks.”
Recently, I spent most of my Sunday watching football. I mean really watching. The kind of paying attention where I'm thinking about the plays being called and listening to the commentators. This is surprising because: a) I live in Hawaii, a state where spending your time away from the TV during the sun-drenched daylight hours is pretty much a requirement for living here and b) Before my Sunday gridiron marathon, my claim to being a “fan” was limited to a Philadelphia Eagles pennant I could point to in pictures of my childhood bedroom. It's safe to say that my dad hung it since my choice of wall decoration at that time would have been anything but an ode to the Eagles.
I'm sure my dad would like to think that the Eagles pennant and his years of talking to me about football scores have finally paid off, but I really owe my newly discovered interest to HBO's “Hard Knocks.” Due to the NFL lockout earlier this year, the 2011 season was a single highlight episode of past series, but I was skeptical that I could sit through even one show about NFL training camp without wandering out of the room to do a load of laundry or check my email. One hour later I had abandoned all household chores and was looking for a full season of the show. Sometimes, television has the power to change your mind.
“Hard Knocks” made me appreciate football for the skill and passion of those who play it and the talent and dedication of those who coach it. The series is a reality show without the scripted feeling that most reality TV shows now have. It follows one team through preseason training camp. Veteran players return hoping that an injury won't end their career and rookie players fight for a spot hoping to begin their career.
The series is shot in documentary style and both the players and the coaching staff wear microphones so the viewer hears their comments as they naturally speak to one another. When Rex Reed, head coach of the New York Jets and the focus of last year's full season, complains about a player's lack of skill or compliments a player for a bone-crunching tackle, it's a genuine reaction in the moment rather than a thought-out response to an interviewer's question. The result is action that is both immediate and authentic.
What the creators of “Hard Knocks” know is that football is more than a sport with rules and playbooks. It's childhood dreams fulfilled and crushed. It's a lifetime of study and passion. Sport is inherently dramatic, but the triumph and tragedy element often gets lost among commercialization, huge paychecks and bad behavior. “Hard Knocks” reminds us of what football is in its pure form, and I for one will be approaching Sunday with a whole new attitude.
Melissa Crawley credits her love of all things small screen to her parents, who never used the line, "Or no TV!" as a punishment. Her book, “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television's 'The West Wing,’” was published in 2006. She has a PhD in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.