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Green Bay Press-Gazette

Monday, July 28, 2008

It's a hard knock NFL life

Green Bay Packers training camp opened today, and having spent a few hours mingling among the fans for a series of stories this weekend, it's always nice to experience one of those rare times when visitors arrive in town, mouths wide open, and our little city is put on the map.

The only reason that little anecdote seems to fit on this blog today is that I realized the opening of NFL training camp also marks the return of one of my favorite programs, HBO's "Hard Knocks." The documentary series is produced by NFL Films, and having been riveted last season by -- of all teams, the boring-ass Kansas City Chiefs -- I can tell you that being a football fan isn't a requirement for getting sucked into the low-key, but highly engaging drama.

The series, as you'd guess, focuses heavily on football, but it also pinpoints several human interest stories that easily captivate. Last season, there was a lot of humor found in rookie defensive linemen Tank Tyler and Turk McBride, though my favorite storyline followed free agent receiver Bobby Sippio, who you couldn't help but root for as he went from camp longshot to hard working fan favorite.

Access, of course, is key. You can watch training camp as a fan or read daily reports in the Press-Gazette. But it's pretty cool to get a (mostly) unfiltered look at what the players, coaches and families go through during the arduous preseason -- which for unknown players is a desperate shot at employment. The best episodes are always right before cutdown day. That's when you get the real sense of competition in camp, and finally, when the axe drops, see how difficult it really is for both sides -- team and player -- to deal with.

While last season was short on any major drama -- Larry Johnson's holdout and the Brodie Croyle-Damon Huard quarterback battle both kinda fizzled -- this year, the series is returning to Dallas Cowboys camp.

And talk about storylines. Perhaps the Favre-less Packers are the only other team with as much fodder for Let's see, there's Burlington native Tony Romo and his heartthrob status thanks to the always-annoying Jessica Simpson, Terrell Owens and his larger-than-life persona, in-your-face owner Jerry Jones constantly mugging for the cameras, and finally the biggest question mark of all, Adam "Don't Call Me Pac-Man" Jones trying to reclaim his career after flushing it down the toilet while "making it rain."

"It's fair to say this thing should go through the roof," HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg told the Associated Press, while also cautioning in this fine article that despite the Cowboys' star power, only players who "earn" screen time with captivating stories will get it.

The series (check out a promo here) premieres Aug. 6 at 9 p.m. CST.

Even if you aren't into football, give it a chance. As a documentary series, it really pulls you into the world of pro football while admirably showing the human side. Or maybe with all the money these guys make, you don't want to acknowledge that they're actually people, too ...

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,

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