The HBO documentary series “Hard Knocks,” which follows one NFL team through preseason training camp, has chronicled defending Super Bowl champs, colorful coaches, and rookies battling for a shot in the NFL. This season, the show will be following the Miami Dolphins, rookie Dolphins coach Joe Philbin announced in a press conference Tuesday. Co-produced by NFL Films, the seventh season of “Hard Knocks” will debut Aug. 7, running five episodes.
Getting the right team for “Hard Knocks” can be a tricky business. Popular, successful teams like the Green Bay Packers or defending Super Bowl champ New York Giants have huge fan bases, storied histories, strong brand recognition, and a large potential viewership – “Hard Knocks,” would love to have them (the series debut in 2002 followed the Baltimore Ravens, fresh off their own Super Bowl title). But those teams have little impetus to allow HBO and NFL Films into their facilities, where team dynamics and interpersonal dramas will be aired for public consumption. The series is renowned for its intimate access to players and personnel, which can be a mixed blessing for featured teams. By contrast, mediocre teams with small fan followings, like the Jacksonville Jaguars or the Cincinnati Bengals, won’t have viewers flocking to HBO.
The Dolphins, however, may be the perfect fit. A storied franchise with a long history and good brand recognition, the Dolphins have been among the NFL’s bottom feeders for a solid decade, since Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino and coach Jimmie Johnson made their exits. The ‘Phins have had seven coaches since Johnson left in 1999. Playing in a tough AFC East division that includes both the Patriots and the Jets, Miami hasn’t made the playoffs since 2008.
In recent years, the Dolphins have been mostly famous for poor ticket sales and a front office thoroughly despised by its fans. In an effort to boost interest in the team, owner Stephen Ross has sold minority stakes in the team to a slew of Miami celebrities, including singer Gloria Estefan, Marc Anthony, and tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams. In March, a group of Dolphins fans protested outside Sun Life Stadium, calling for General Manager Jeff Ireland to be fired. The team’s offseason thus far has been an exercise in failure – Peyton Manning, Alex Smith, Matt Flynn, and coach Jeff Fisher were all seriously courted by the Dolphins, then chose to go elsewhere.
“Hard Knocks” will make people care about Dolphins players who aren’t necessarily household names (among the story lines sure to be featured is a quarterback competition among the Dolphins’ top draft pick, Ryan Tannehill, presumed starter Matt Moore, and aging veteran David Gerrard). The Dolphins’ reviled front office will have a chance to humanize itself and explain some of the failures of the offseason.
And a few stars may emerge. New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan became a superstar after the his team’s 2010 “Hard Knocks” appearance, thanks to his loud-mouthed coaching style and a series of colorful sound bites (which we can’t print here). Dolphins coach Philbin, who used to be offensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers, is the first rookie coach so far to appear on “Hard Knocks,” and the show is an opportunity for Dolphins fans to get to know their new leader.
Such familiarity could translate into a boost in ticket sales. In a crowded sports market that includes the NBA’s Heat, baseball’s Marlins, and yet another storied powerhouse, the University of Miami Hurricanes, that’s something the Dolphins sorely need.