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Sports Media

It’s hard to resist bombast of Jets

HBO show becomes must-see in preseason

By Chad Finn
Globe Staff / August 27, 2010

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The most disappointing thing about this year’s edition of “Hard Knocks’’ on HBO?

Easy. That it has to end.

What football fan wouldn’t want to watch coach Rex Ryan’s bragging, swaggering New York Jets right on through the regular season? Wouldn’t it be entertaining to have inside access as the Jets soar toward the Super Bowl success they’re so brashly certain is theirs, suffer the messy implosion no one in green and white seems to consider a possibility, or follow them to wherever they may land in between?

It’s wishful, whimsical thinking, of course. Not even the charmingly blustery Ryan would dare allow his team to be such an open book when the games matter. So viewers mesmerized by the program will have to settle for two more episodes from training camp in the show’s five-episode arc. The finale airs Sept. 9.

“Hard Knocks’’ has generated more than a few memorable moments since debuting on HBO in 2001 with a look at Baltimore Ravens’ training camp. (The Jets are the fifth team to be featured; the Cowboys have appeared twice, and the show was on hiatus from 2003-06.)

In 2002, Dallas fans had to know their team was doomed to underachieve the moment milquetoast head coach Dave Campo appeared on camera in a wetsuit. A year earlier, Baltimore coach Brian Billick dozed off on a hammock with one of Rick Pitino’s motivational tomes on his lap, which was easily interpreted as a reflection on the book’s advice. And last season, were the antics of Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco alone worth the price of an HBO subscription? Child, please. You bet they were.

But no previous season of “Hard Knocks’’ has generated the buzz of this year’s. Simply put, they are the story of the preseason, save perhaps for Brett Favre’s usual look-at-me melodrama. And CBS, which has the rights to AFC games, is expecting to benefit from a saga that began on HBO.

“Any promotion that is positive in nature and is good for the Jets is also good for us,’’ said CBS Sports president Sean McManus at the network’s NFL media day Tuesday in Manhattan. “Having a team like the Jets that has a lot of stuff swirling around it that gets a lot of attention, not only in New York but nationally, obviously helps.’’

Phil Simms, the color analyst alongside Jim Nantz on the network’s No. 1 team, will call the Jets’ Week 2 matchup with the Patriots. The duo is also calling the Patriots’ opener versus Cincinnati, but Simms acknowledged it’s tough not to anticipate watching the Patriots take on the team that is the talk of the league.

“They’re getting a lot of talk because . . . they talk,’’ Simms said. “And they’re an easy story to cover, but also an incredibly interesting one. I can honestly admit it. I’ll be laying in bed at night, after watching those guys, and I’ll reach over and grab my notepad, and I’m not exaggerating, I’ve probably written down 15 things about the Jets already, and it’s because of their talk. The show, and what they’ve made of it, makes for an incredible dynamic.’’

Not to mention an unusual one, given most teams’ fear of providing bulletin-board material for an opponent.

“Let’s be honest,’’ Simms said. “The Jets have been so open during all of this that we have to get used to it. Nobody in the NFL has done what they’re doing. I’m old school, and we were pretty closed off when I was with the Giants — not quite like up in New England, but close — but the talking and the television show do not bother me at all.

“It’s way too entertaining for anyone to have an issue with it. We’re all going to be doing the same thing, broadcasters, players, you guys up in New England. We’ve all been watching and listening with our jaws dropped, and we’re all going to be waiting to see if they can back it up.’’

Err on Jordan
ESPN’s ambitious “30 for 30’’ project, which features 30 films by 30 filmmakers on sports personalities and events from the network’s 30 years of existence, has been by all measures a success.

With 18 of the 30 films having aired, it’s apparent that the series has set a standard for contemporary sports documentaries. Watching the Aug. 15 debut on the MLB Network of “Tragedy and Triumph: The 1994 Expos,’’ MLB Productions’ underwhelming take on a franchise devastated by the players’ strike that wiped out the World Series, one couldn’t help but wonder how much more compelling it might have been had it been given the “30 for 30’’ treatment.

Considering the rave reviews, then, it was somewhat jarring to hear Red Sox manager Terry Francona, who managed Michael Jordan with the Double A Birmingham Barons in 1994, sound less than impressed with the latest installment in the series, “Jordan Rides The Bus,’’ director Ron Shelton’s look at the basketball icon’s one-season foray into minor league baseball.

“I actually watched part of it,’’ said Francona Wednesday, the day after the film’s premiere, during his weekly spot on WEEI’s “Dale and Holley Show.’’ “And I thought maybe because I lived through it, I thought it was a little bit disappointing. Interviewing the real estate lady’’ — an eager woman who breathlessly reported that Jordan had to have ‘a basketball goal’ at his residence — “I could have done without all that.’’

The film was hindered by Jordan’s refusal to be interviewed. But Francona also noted correctly that it was odd that Shelton didn’t use what he did have to the greatest effect.

“They used the — and I don’t know why — they used a stunt double’’ — to re-enact some of Jordan’s highlights and lowlights’’ — and I never did quite figure that out,’’ Francona said. “They had so much footage of him playing baseball.

“Again, I’m not a producer. It just didn’t do much for me.’’

Serving up some 3D
Tennis has to rate among the sports that would most benefit from 3D technology, and DirecTV subscribers will have a chance to find out for sure during the US Open. CBS, in cooperation with the US Tennis Association and Panasonic, will produce 3D versions of all Arthur Ashe Stadium matches that it broadcasts in HD on Labor Day weekend. The 3D matches will be available on DirecTV channel 103 . . . While NESN’s most recent attempts at new programming have typically left us longing for the halcyon days of “Sox Appeal,’’ we do try our best to give it the benefit of the doubt in the early going. With that said, “After The Game’’ — an “MTV Cribs’’-style look into the homes of Boston athletes and celebrities that shrewdly counters any perceived emphasis on lavish lifestyles by also playing up charitable endeavors — will debut Sept. 3. It is produced by Kelly Boullet and Linda Pizzuti Henry, wife of Red Sox owner John Henry.

Chad Finn can be reached at finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globechadfinn.

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