August 5th, 2009
01:13 AM ET

Visiting the College of "Hard Knocks"

It's not often a producer on the entertainment news beat gets to cover his hometown football team, but when the Cincinnati Bengals were selected to appear on this season's "Hard Knocks" on HBO (premiering August 12), I pounced at the chance.

hard knocks

The reality series focuses on the training camp of an NFL team and chronicles the ups and downs of the players as they try to make the cut.  In all likelihood, this is the one time in my career that the Bengals will actually intersect with the world of entertainment.  So with microcassette recorder and camera in hand, I flew to Cincinnati on my own dime to conduct interviews with the team for a CNN.com piece that will appear next week.

After a visit with family and friends, I found myself at camp. The soldiers of the gridiron were already working out and stretching in the morning sun.  The HBO film crew was working away, getting their shots.  I chuckle as I hear defensive tackle Tank Johnson good-naturedly egging on the sole Caucasian in his position group during drills: "That's it white lightning! Way to go white lightning!'

I usually talk to actors and musicians and had never interviewed athletes in a setting like this. I didn't know what to expect. When my first interview subject came up, I found out in a hurry.

Larger than life wide receiver Chad Ocho Cinco greets me. He's struggling to get through a phalanx of autograph seekers.  I plant myself next to him, recorder at the ready. "You gotta walk with me, man," he instructs me.  We're walking a mile a minute through the practice field.  It's utter chaos. I get a few questions in, before the local media jumps in with theirs.

Thankfully, one of the Bengals PR men, PJ Combs, pulls him away from the bombardment and we continue our one-on-one interview walk.  I tell him I'm thinking of calling my article, "Inglorious Bengals," a play on "Inglorious Basterds," the World War II Quentin Tarrantino movie out this month.  "I like it," he says.

"Do you think that would be a fun persona for the Bengals to assume, one that would strike fear into the heart of your opponents?" I jokingly suggest.  "The title of an article is really not going to be the thing that does it," he replies, "Right now, we're going to have to go out there and earn our respect."  As this is going on, the HBO crew is filming us.  I had inadvertently become part of the story I was covering.

One of the players Bengals fans hope won't let them down is this year's second round draft pick, Rey Maualuga, out of USC.  "Hard Knocks" needs colorful characters to attract the casual viewer and  Maualuga certainly qualifies. I ask him bluntly if coming from a wildly successful program like USC to the Bengals is a "bummer."

"I don't see it as a bummer... We can only move up from here.  It's a good thing to come to a program that hasn't been doing too well for the past few years and try to help the team progress.  I think that's the whole point of 'Hard Knocks,' that a team that's been down for certain years, you know, what a way to come out this year and start out this year with this and show how this team can come together and bring something good to Cincinnati."

"Hard Knocks" debuts on HBO, Wednesday, August 12th.


soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Jack

    Wow, chill Joe. Did this guy take a job from you?There is nothing wrong with what he said.

    August 12, 2009 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Joe Marshall

    "As this is going on, the HBO crew is filming us. I had inadvertently become part of the story I was covering." Really?? You came there to cover the fact that HBO was filming all the "inside" stuff at training camp, and it didn't occur to you that this would happen. Unbelievable... Yet another airhead reporter (a Hollywood reporter, no less – guess I don't really need to specify 'airhead'!!) who has no clue what he is doing or what it is that he is covering. And these people get paid big $$$ to put out this tripe. Sorry, not wasting my time on it.

    August 11, 2009 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Michelle

    Dhani Jones was very entertaining to watch in his series Dhani Tackles The Globe. I can't wait to see more of him on Hard Knocks.

    August 6, 2009 at 6:42 am | Report abuse |
  4. Jim Rome

    The Bengals had home field in the playoffs in 2005 when Carson's knee went out against the Steelers. They missed the playoffs the next year on a missed extra point in Denver. Last year Fitzpatrick was Quarterback..OK that was some perspective. Now why Hard Knocks should be interesting is because The team had a great draft and made several upgrades in free agency. Coles for T.J is a slight downgrade..but Chris Henry is capable and focused as ever to compensate along with Mr Benson. Hard Knocks will let us see how these new factors can or can not have an effect on a team which fell from Home Field playoffs till the point they are at now.

    August 5, 2009 at 9:17 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jack

    While the Bengals are certainly not in the top 10 of franchises I would not call them a bottom dweller. They have underperformed the last few seasons but that's what makes for an interesting story. Hard Knocks: Patriots would be really boring.

    August 5, 2009 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Mrs.Miller

    At least Chad whatever his last name will be is going to be enteraining. It would be worse if it was the Lions, or the Bucks or any other really bad team.

    August 5, 2009 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
  7. BLWC

    The Bungals?? Why waste a great show on a rotten franchise like that? They are about the worst the NFL has to offer-and have been that way for pretty much ever. Oh well.

    August 5, 2009 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  8. AndyB

    Can't wait to see this. The Bengals are an interesting team that had a great draft. Their schedule is much more favorable than last year and with Carson back expectations are high.

    August 5, 2009 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |

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