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The Oral History of the First Season of ‘Hard Knocks’

One of HBO’s strokes of genius is how it combined the worlds of reality TV and professional football. But it might not have worked if they hadn’t started off with the 2001 Baltimore Ravens.

Jarett Sitter

On November 8, 1972, the Home Box Office was born, and television was changed forever. To celebrate the network’s 50th birthday, The Ringer hereby dubs today “HBO Day.”

On the morning before HBO premiered the second episode of Hard Knocks, a new docu-series chronicling NFL training camp, Baltimore Ravens head coach Brian Billick had an unlikely request. Each Wednesday before practice, Billick—alongside owner Art Modell, team president David Modell, and vice president of player personnel Ozzie Newsome—-would meet with NFL Films director Bob Angelo to screen a rough cut of that week’s show, making sure it was safe to air. Angelo had been worried about the amount of excessive profanity in the pilot, and then-NFL Films president, the late Steve Sabol, was convinced the league office would also take issue with it, so for the second installment, the editorial team “had made a concerted effort to get rid of as much profanity as possible,” Angelo says.

Billick noticed right away. Despite his eloquence in interviews and erudite approach to coaching, he’d developed an unfiltered vocabulary on the field and in the locker room, prompting his family to institute a swear jar at home. Still, he understood this new series was in search of authenticity, and didn’t want to hide behind a cleaner version of himself. “My family was mortified by it, but it is who I am, and it’s the raw nature of camp,” Billick says. When the screening finished, Billick approached the director and put it plainly: “Another great show, Bob, but we need a few more gratuitous fucks in there, don’t you think?’” That was all Sabol needed to hear. “Steve said, ‘OK, I’m done being concerned about this,’” says Angelo. “‘The league doesn’t seem to care, the Ravens don’t give a crap, let’s move on.’”

In line with its original mission, for the next several weeks Hard Knocks remained steadfast in capturing the unvarnished reality of the NFL. Originally conceived by longtime television director Marty Callner, the series—which debuted on August 1, 2001—aimed to capitalize on the nascent era of reality TV by following players through the rigors of making a roster and providing an all-access, cinema verité approach to sports never seen before. “There’s this mythic, wondrous quality to NFL football, and people were accustomed to just seeing it on a Sunday or Monday and never getting a behind-the-walls peek at what the game was all about,” says former HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg. “The goal was to take them right inside and lift the veil.”

With league and team approval and an NFL Films partnership, HBO made good on its premium cable designation. Unlike the previous decades of sports documentaries, which mostly featured archived footage and Ken Burns–like narration, Angelo and his team of videographers dedicated themselves to filming every corner of the Westminster, Maryland, practice facility—inside the huddle, the cafeteria, the cold tub, the meeting room and head coach’s office—that established football scribes had long wanted access to. Without a set agenda or script, they expedited footage to their production studios, where a dozen editors crafted a six-episode narrative at a previously unthinkable weekly pace. And because their subject was a team that featured the late defensive lineman Tony Siragusa, tight end Shannon Sharpe, linebacker Ray Lewis, and a formidable coaching staff of big personalities, there were plenty of comical, tense, and unpredictable moments to parse through. “What made it so special was you got an authentic look at how everybody did their job—how the schedule came about, how guys got cut,” Sharpe says. “It was a true glimpse inside what training camp was actually like.”

Thanks to the team’s popularity and cast of eccentric characters, the series became ratings gold. Twenty-one years later, it continues to be one of HBO’s most impressive feats, and though the production value has increased tenfold, the inherently dramatic concept has remained the same (and even spawned an in-season spinoff), drawing new and casual fans to America’s most popular sport. “Who knew what it would become?” says current NFL Films senior coordinating producer Ken Rodgers. “But we had the perfect coach and team to launch it. If any other season was the first season, I can’t imagine that the show would still be on the air.”

Part 1: “It Was the Easiest Negotiation I Ever Had.”

Though MTV’s The Real World had been on the air since 1992, reality television was still just beginning to take root. At the turn of the century, a sports documentary series in that same vein seemed like a radical—and genius—idea.

Marty Callner (creator): One day, eating dinner at my house, I got very quiet and closed my eyes. Ten minutes later, I opened my eyes and said to my family, “I’ve got an incredible idea.”

Ross Greenburg (HBO Sports president, 2000-11): Marty called me and said, “I’ve got this concept to follow six rookies or so on an NFL team during preseason in a reality setting to see if they make the team or not.” The idea was to take the viewer to where they’d never been.

Callner: At the time, the NFL had such a shield and the coaches and owners were so reluctant. John Collins in the NFL office said, “I’d be interested if you get HBO.” So I went to [head of HBO programming] Chris Albrecht and said, “What do you think?” He said, “We might be interested if you get the NFL.”

Greenburg: The first call I had to make was to Steve Sabol. It was the easiest negotiation I ever had. He was so committed to the reality of it all. And of all the sports production entities, NFL Films had the journalistic chops to execute a show like this. They had some of the best shooters and editors and writers in all of television sports.

Ken Rodgers (current NFL Films senior coordinating producer): Not many people know, but the first time we did a Hard Knocks–like show was the 1976 special called Birth of the Bucs, about the first year of Buccaneers training camp. It was just a one-episode presentation, and it included the first player to ever be cut on television. That was 25 years earlier.

Rick Bernstein (HBO executive producer): We often went to a group within the department called creative services and they’d come back with a list of proposed titles after we explained to them what the show was about. We looked at the list and it just didn’t seem like any were appropriate. I happened to look at my bookshelf, where I had a book about Chuck Knox that was called Hard Knox: The Life of an NFL Coach. I turned to my colleague and said, “How about Hard Knocks?”

Greenburg: Steve told me there’s a lot more to preseason than just rookies trying to make the team. You have veterans trying to make the team, you have the camaraderie that starts to take shape, there’s the head coach. So we kind of changed the focus and broadened it.

Callner: Sabol was a showman, and he understood that he needed good characters.

Brian Billick (Ravens head coach, 1999-2007): At the league meetings, Steve had approached me about what was then a very unique idea. I had a great deal of trust in Steve and what NFL Films does, and he was very compelling in what he was laying out. I visited with Ozzie [Newsome] and Art [Modell] about their thoughts on it. He knew because of my [PR] background that I might be most amenable to it, but that it was going to be a tough sell for a coach because it sounds intrusive.

Greenburg: You needed three green lights: You needed the coach’s, the general manager’s, and the owner’s.

Billick: As we talked about it, there were a couple of compelling things. At that time, the Ravens were a young organization, a small-market team. To raise a new organization’s profile—even after winning the Super Bowl—certainly made sense from a marketing standpoint. But the biggest thing was: Can you win it again? The key is how do you keep your guys focused and motivated? Guys just breeze through [camp] to get to the regular season to try and repeat. I thought it would be a good motivating factor to get the players’ attention. Now we’re going to come under more scrutiny.

Callner: They recognized the value in the promotion of the franchise in merchandising and ticket sales and nationwide recognition, and it just snowballed.

Part 2: “Nothing Like This Had Really Been Done Before.”

The concept of shooting an NFL team nonstop during training camp sounded like a great idea, but the execution was much trickier. It required trust between the NFL Films shooters and the entire organization, and a rapid-fire editing process to put it all together in real time.

Bob Angelo (director): It was early spring when this whole thing got put together. Steve called me into his office one day and said, “I’ve got a show for you and I want you to design it, produce and direct it.”

Bernstein: When you work in TV production, doing something for the first time is probably the most exciting aspect of our career. You’re starting with that blank canvas.

Angelo: I’d been preparing for things like this my whole career. And it was a perfect arrangement because Brian Billick and I were friends going in. I knew him from my experiences with the Minnesota Vikings after I did a weeklong show in Minnesota. This was just a little longer: 43 days with a group of guys.

Billick: I kind of knew what they wanted. I was excited about that aspect of it, opening the doors for the fans. This was the beginning of reality TV and this was the ultimate in reality TV.

Angelo: Brian said, “Bob, you can do whatever you want,” and Ravens management said the same thing. “The only thing off limits is our training room. We don’t want other teams knowing the extent of the injuries our players are going to suffer.” So I mapped out the show.

Greenburg: I remember going to NFL Films in Mount Laurel with Rick Bernstein and having a brainstorm at a long conference-room table with NFL Films producers, homing in on which characters we wanted to focus on, knowing that Shannon Sharpe and Tony Siragusa and Billick were at the top of the list.

Angelo: We knew their no. 1 pick, Todd Heap, was going to make it, but we don’t know about anybody else, so we’d focus on a handful of young men—rookies, free agents—trying to make this team. I’d been around Tony long enough to know he was going to be a live wire. And I figured we could get the same kind of thing out of Shannon because Shannon is a mischievous, playful dude with an interesting way of speaking.

Shannon Sharpe (Ravens tight end, 2000-01): I didn’t really think anything about it. We didn’t normally have [cameras] in the meeting rooms or people in the cafeteria or the weight room. After a while it became second nature and you forget that they’re there.

Qadry Ismail (Ravens wide receiver, 1999-2001): Brian always had a way of connecting with the media. When we knew NFL Films was really [bringing in] camera guys, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. They weren’t all up in your face. It wasn’t like shtick TV trying to get a gotcha moment.

Angelo: I went into the show very confident. Day one, 10 minutes into the first practice, Brian goes, “BOB ANGELO, GET DOWN HERE!” and I go down there and see my guys are working with boom poles. He said, “We can’t have these guys in the middle of our drills.” So I said, “Simple solution, we go with wirings from here on in.” He says, “Done.” That made it really easy for me and really hard for the audio people, who had to mic a dozen pairs of shoulder pads every day. Then we started to get good sound because we weren’t in huddles in the middle of drills.

Bernstein: You never wanted these coaches to feel uncomfortable and feel like the camera was right there when they’re having discussions that you want to eavesdrop on.

Angelo: [Defensive coordinator] Marvin Lewis was looking to become a head coach. [Linebackers coach] Jack Del Rio was looking to become a head coach. [Defensive line coach] Rex Ryan was looking to become a head coach. They never objected to anything. I would just walk in and say, “Coach, we need you to put a wireless on.” They’d put it on and the meeting would start.

Bernstein: Nothing like this had really been done before. There was no test show, no pilot. These shows were edited in one week. I’m certain NFL Films had never had a process in place to handle a show like this.

Angelo: We had five dedicated cameramen every day to shoot every practice and do wirings at practice. We had robotic cameras set up in Brian’s office and several of the team meeting rooms.

Billick: I got so used to the robotic camera, I’d be sitting there looking up at the camera saying, “Hey, you guys, want to go to lunch?” and the camera would shake up and down or side to side. And the players got used to it. You very quickly forget that you’re wired, which is great for them because there are things you said you wish you didn’t.

Angelo: I always made sure to get to the dining hall, because one never knew when a rookie would be standing there singing his college fight song or something.

Rod Woodson (Ravens safety, 1998-2001): We had to learn when to speak, how to speak, what we should say—because the coaches got to see all that.

Ross Ketover (coordinating producer, NFL Films: We probably had about 10 to 15 producers back at NFL Films for 40 straight days. We’d probably get in about 40 tapes a day that everyone had to go through. You’d essentially log all day and then at night you’d edit that stuff into a cohesive segment. It was on DigiBeta back then. About 40 minutes on each tape and about 25-30 hours of footage a day coming in.

Greenburg: This was a monumental task and a lot of preparation went into it. At the first press conference, Steve was asked, “How would you describe the production of this show?” And Steve said, “Well, it’s kind of like flying a plane and putting it together at the same time.”

Angelo: My job was to get everything I could get on location. I would talk to [coproducer] John Weiss about what we were getting and let him know what to look for. Those tapes would be driven back from Maryland to Mount Laurel. We would have a transfer operation going on on the road.

Ketover: In future years, we couriered it through the airlines, but [back then] there were two trips a day—midday and late at night—driving tapes to NFL Films.

Bernstein: The footage would get to Mount Laurel, and the show was done by Tuesday night.

Ketover: Through the night the [tapes] would be digitized into our editing systems. We’d come in first thing the next morning, go through all the raw material, hopefully they’d logged it all by midafternoon, and then late afternoon through the evening we would edit a segment individually. The day before it aired, all those segments would come to one editor who would sit down with Steve and John, and sometimes myself, and form it into a cohesive hour. It was daunting, for sure.

Angelo: When I knew we had something special, I would tell them to make sure this gets the treatment it deserves.

Ketover: One of the first shows, Billick reamed them out in a speech, and it came in really late. We’d thought we’d save it and start it for the next show, and Steve gave us the advice, “Don’t ever hold something great. If you have it, put it in the show.” So we scrambled to get it in.

Billick: Ozzie and I had a final review of the episodes each Wednesday morning before they aired. It was agreed that if we said, “It’s out,” it’s out. No questions asked, which I know they worried about.

Angelo: There was one incident on a train. There was a poker game going on, and I walked back to shoot the poker game and it was made clear to me I was not welcome, like, “Get the fuck outta here.” It’s gambling and they didn’t want the NFL to see.

Billick: I think maybe on two occasions we had them clip some minor things. We gave them a lot of latitude.

Angelo: We weren’t interested in the X’s and O’s. My job was to point the camera at the right people at the right times and make sure we were getting what we needed to tell each of these individual stories.

Part 3: “Shannon and Goose Gave You the Best Material.”

Because most viewers didn’t know the inner workings of training camp, Angelo and his team relied on Billick to guide them through the weekly operations. In between, the series leaned into its primary characters, most notably Siragusa, who was always ready to drop an iconic quote or create a memorable moment.

Angelo: I decided early on I didn’t want to use a narrator. I wanted the players to tell their own story. We set up a trailer on site and we talked to a lot of these participants about their players and their coaches.

Rodgers: No one remembers that there was no Liev Schreiber. I think he had a paragraph up front in Episode 1 describing things, but there was no narration in the show. Coach Billick allowed us to use him as the narrator in many ways.

Angelo: Brian was great about it. One day when he was trying to figure out what I needed from him, he said, “Bob, why don’t you just tell me what you need me to say and I will? I’ll put it in my own language.” Brian sat there quoting Shakespeare. On the one hand, you have all this profanity going on on the football field, and you’ve got Brian waxing poetic about it. It couldn’t have been a more perfect situation.

Billick: It just kind of morphed that way as we were taping. It also gave me the ability to make sure that the fans had the proper interpretation and reference frame to what they were seeing.

Rodgers: It gives the audience credit for being smart enough to follow the story. There’s no one to lead your hand.

Ketover: We were just trying to figure out how to make it feel cohesive. How do we get from point A to B to C? It was somewhat chronological in the beats of the week, ending with a preseason game.

Angelo: After the first show aired, I made sure we installed whatever the local cable was in Maryland into the college dormitories where the Ravens were staying so they could see the shows and get an idea of what they were doing out there.

Billick: I do have to say that it changed my perspective at camp a little bit because you do see more than you’re probably aware of. I know for the players it became must-see TV.

Woodson: If we wanted to drop the F-bomb on Brian, [we knew] Coach would see it and we’d get in trouble. Our safe haven was the steam room. We would go in there and air all our dirty laundry every Friday—me, Ray, and Shannon.

Sharpe: Or we went back to the dorm. You didn’t get a whole lot of privacy.

Angelo: Shannon snuck out with a bag of McDonald’s and he would not let us shoot it because of his fitness regimen and diet. He put it under his shirt.

Sharpe: But they used it anyway! I had my weigh-in, and then what do I want? A 20-piece nugget, a large fry, two apple pies, and a soda. That’s what I got every Friday in college.

Angelo: Shannon and Ray and Rod would all work out at the back of the calisthenic line at practice, and they started pressing me about Tony getting a lot of airtime. I said, “Guys, you act as if our lenses have player repellant on the front sometimes. Why don’t you loosen up? Invite us out to your homes.”

Sharpe: I understood that Tony loved the camera, but he was a very gregarious guy, very charismatic, he had a lot of stories to tell. I knew what he was doing. He was trying to parlay this into something bigger than Hard Knocks.

Billick: Tony was very entrepreneurial, and he saw this as an avenue to expand his brand. Nobody likes training camp, and you knew Tony would become a focal point because he was always so animated.

Woodson: I know Goose and Shannon loved it. All the guys who like to joke around and be the center of attention, that show is made for them. I’m not like that.

Ismail: [Goose] just didn’t give a fuck. He was like, “I don’t care, I am going to tell you what is on my mind, I’m going to say what everybody is thinking anyway, and it’s going to be hilariously funny,” and it was. That was Goose. Everybody fed off it.

Rodgers: There’s an honesty there from Goose that I’m not sure we’ve gotten again. I think Chad Ochocinco and Rex Ryan came close, and Dan Campbell came close. Something as simple as him being on the boat and saying, “I don’t want to go back.” You wouldn’t hear a professional athlete say that often, let alone out loud on national television.

Callner: I remember when Tony told Todd Heap, “Don’t bring your wife around [the dorms].” That shit was gold.

Tim Johnson (Ravens linebacker, 2001): Goose just having fun at practice, talking trash, being himself—you got to see the NFL isn’t any different than high school or college. They’re just regular guys.

Rodgers: We learned right away that the humor with those characters plays very well.

Angelo: When Tony locked them in the tight ends meeting room—that happens at training camp. After he did that, Shannon stole his truck. The interplay between them was wonderful to see. When that transpired, I said, “We got something good here.”

Sharpe: At the time, I was just thinking, he got me, I’ve got to get his ass back.

Ketover: You want the best material. Shannon and Goose gave you the best material.

Part 4: “You’re Probably Ending a Lifelong Dream.”

The first season of Hard Knocks was full of unique incidents. Outside of the inherent drama of rookies battling to make the roster and being cut, the team’s star running back, Jamal Lewis, tore his ACL; a rookie linebacker left camp; and the first preseason game in Philadelphia was canceled due to poor field quality. But audiences also got a glimpse of camp’s lighter side.

Rodgers: Jamal Lewis gets hurt—you could have never predicted that going into a camp.

Angelo: We just happened to be shooting at Brian’s home that night when he got the phone call.

Sharpe: There were a lot of plots. I don’t think there’s ever been a situation where the field was so improperly kept that it canceled a preseason game. Normally it’s due to thunder and lightning or maybe a natural disaster. You probably won’t ever see that again.

Rodgers: That’s part of the ingredients that make Hard Knocks special. The things that happen that make you say, “I can’t believe this is happening on camera.”

Billick: We had our share of interesting ups and downs, but that’s training camp. It’s a long time, there’s a lot involved, and I think it was an accurate portrayal.

Woodson: Everybody looked forward to the rookie talent show because we knew that was going to be the day that we could kind of find relief. We’re going to watch these guys have fun.

Ketover: That was one of the first times anyone had seen a rookie show. When you go through [the footage] for the first time and you know it’s great, you call people into your office. There was a Shannon Sharpe impersonation, a Ray Lewis impersonation …

Johnson: I’ve got an uncle and family that talked similar [to Shannon], being from the South. I was just joking around and [my friend] Cornell burst out laughing. He was like, “You gotta do that at the rookie show.” So that was the origin. I had no practice. I just went up there on a whim.

Woodson: When he came in and had the hat on, we all knew who he was. And then he started talking. That was probably the best show I’d ever seen of all the rookie shows throughout my 17 years of playing.

Sharpe: It was great TV.

Billick: That’s the value of Hard Knocks. These guys are young and they’re engaging—they’re not just automatons that go onto the field.

Greenburg: One thing we were always mindful of was: tell a story. Don’t just throw stuff together.

Ketover: You’re building a series and you want to make sure the audience cares about the guy who’s going to get cut or make this team in that last episode.

Angelo: One of the moves in that preseason was discovering Kenny Jackson. Kenny was this big, good-looking, wonderful human being who was teaching disabled children on the West Coast and looking for his break in pro football. He was the most popular character through that entire season.

Johnson: Kenny was my roommate. They’re in my room, he’s shaving, they’re filming. I was glad they weren’t filming me. I was so serious about making the team. It was really one of the more real moments in my early career and life. The world is watching you make this team.

Sharpe: I’m sure it’s tough, because it’s not like Heap, where they were automatically going to make the team. They’re really having to fight and scratch and claw.

Woodson: We all like underdogs. We like people who are not given a chance and make something of it.

Greenburg: I think the first time we saw Billick in his office in an intense discussion with his assistant coaches or individual players, that was startling to me. Those kinds of scenes set the tone for the whole series. You really felt like a fly on the wall.

Rodgers: I think there’s a lot of empathy created by these people trying to do well at their jobs because that’s what we’re all trying to do in life. Can you imagine hearing what your boss said about you in a meeting with their boss?

Callner: What originally influenced me was The Sopranos. What made The Sopranos work is everybody wants to go behind the scenes and see what organized crime is really like. Everybody wants to go inside the locker room and see what happens when guys get cut.

Angelo: It’s not as if you get voted off the island and you get a plane ticket home to watch the show. They’re pursuing NFL careers—to get cut is to be told you’re not good enough.

Billick: It’s one of the toughest jobs you have to do. So you’re mindful of that. Personally, I have to make these cuts, and then you try to put it in perspective for the young man, knowing you’re probably ending a lifelong dream.

Rodgers: I think [the show] subtly became part of the evaluation process for Hard Knocks coaches. If someone can’t handle the pressure of being featured in a preseason game, then how are they going to be when we need them in the playoffs?

Angelo: At the very end, Kenny, who had been so cooperative throughout the entire process, suddenly didn’t want to talk anymore. I could understand—when he got cut, he’s looking at me like, “I got cut, c’mon, Bob, I gave you five weeks of my heart and soul and it’s taken away from me.” I felt bad because he was such a good person.

Rodgers: Camp just happens to be the setting, but it’s about the people. That’s what they discovered that first year.

Part 5: “You Hated to Be the Team That Followed Us.”

The first iteration of the show made a bold impression around the sports television world, and it’s continued to burnish its legacy as the signature, template-setting docu-series today. Without the Ravens’ participation and personnel, it might not have lasted more than one season.

Greenburg: The reaction was wild. It was by far the highest-rated program in non-boxing programming that we had ever put on the network, and I think people were astounded. And those in the industry were astounded that we could turn it around so quickly.

Rodgers: The amount of footage combined with the quickness of the turnaround was something I never imagined before coming to NFL Films. I don’t think anyone who has tried to re-create Hard Knocks has been able to put that much infrastructure into place. That’s a commitment that isn’t worth it to a lot of people, financially and creatively.

Greenburg: It’s all about the magicians behind the camera, in the edit room, the writers and the creators, and I don’t think that mission—to dissect these fascinating stories about men trying to make a football team—has ever changed.

Angelo: At no point did Brian Billick ever say to me, “All right, we gotta cut this down.” Brian committed to it. That’s why this show worked.

Billick: I’m proud of it. There’s a lot of coaches that say, “Eh, no, it’s a bad thing,” but I think it was good for the team, for the league. When I look back over my career, I think it was one of those things that was special, it was unique.

Ismail: It ushered in a new wave of fan-based connection that exploded the franchise to greater heights of visibility. I know if it were filmed today, I would have approached it way differently. I totally would have been front and center with it all on my social media.

Sharpe: You got an opportunity to see guys talking and interacting, eating in the dining hall, training room. You got to see these guys in a different aspect as opposed to just playing the game.

Woodson: It was eye-opening to the public to see what we go through daily. It made everybody realize we’re just humans. We play a sport that gives us decent money to live in a nice house, but it doesn’t take away your problems.

Johnson: My love for the game really helped me off the field. That spilled over walking down the hall at lunch or in the locker room or in the meeting room. Those were raw moments.

Ismail: When the season was over, I was back down in Florida. I was walking into Chuck E. Cheese with my kids and one lady was like, “Oh my gosh, hey, you’re the guy from the Ravens, you’re in Hard Knocks.” And I was sheepish and she said, “Well, I didn’t recognize you, I recognized your kids.” My kids were way more popular than I was.

Billick: If I’m in the airport, 10 people will come up and five will say, “Oh, Super Bowl–winning coach.” The other side will say, “Hey, Hard Knocks.” The scope of it is a bit surprising.

Bernstein: Steve Sabol specifically said that he saw no way that we could ever do anything better than what we did on this first season of Hard Knocks, and that we shouldn’t even try to do it again.

Angelo: We were lucky that we had Brian, Tony, and Shannon. The fact that Ray Lewis and Rod Woodson made themselves part of it …

Sharpe: Everybody was getting measured up against what we did. You hated to be the team that followed us.

Ketover: I think there’s no doubt we’ve gotten much better about making it feel like a true hour of story and not a collection of vignettes and scenes. We’ve gotten better with music and adding Liev.

Callner: Hard Knocks changed the game. Take a look at 24/7. They went into the life of boxers. It’s the same show.

Greenburg: The leagues were all ready to try to create a new fan base that had not been exposed to their sport. There’s something magical about bringing a sport to life behind the scenes.

Rodgers: We’ve done marketing studies that show, of all the NFL programming including live games, Hard Knocks has the highest percentage of non-avid football fans watching it.

Callner: I can’t tell you how many people come to me from the leagues: “We want to do Hard Knocks,” and I say, “You can’t do it, it’s survival—six weeks and 90 guys fighting for 53 jobs. You can’t do it in any other sport.” It’s a big drama.

Rodgers: It just hasn’t been replicated because of the uniqueness of training camp. Some of the in-season shows are much more prevalent now, whether it’s Drive to Survive within the F1 season, or even now we’re doing Hard Knocks in-season. It’s more about the players going through the actual job, not learning, proving and getting the job.

Angelo: The shows these days are slick and edited beautifully and the music is used beautifully. They’re vastly improved from the very first show.

Ketover: We’ve become more cognizant on the artistic value of it, more aware of making it.

Greenburg: Every year, you have to fulfill that goal that was set up by Steve in 2001.

Callner: Did I expect it to be on for 20 years? Not really.

Ketover: Hard Knocks is a big reason why August is now a huge month on the NFL calendar. Our plan is to keep going with training camp and the in-season show. It’s our Marvel universe.

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