The way the television-vetting rules of the NFL work, teams cannot refuse a selection to be the subject of the HBO reality series Hard Knocks if they a) have never been on the show before, b) have a first year head coach, or c) made the playoffs within the last two seasons. So we knew that once the game of Head Coaching Musical Chairs had stopped in February, there were nine NFL teams that fit this category. The Houston Texans were one of those teams.
After an express version of a Bachelor-esque culling of the herd, we learned last week that the league and HBO had narrowed its Hard Knocks search to three teams — the Texans, the Washington Redskins, and the Buffalo Bills, with the Texans as the underground, odds-on favorite. (Although admittedly, battling Rex Ryan for a spot on reality TV might wind up being the toughest game on the Texans' schedule all season.)
Finally, yesterday, rumors that swirled over the weekend were confirmed — Houston, the circus is coming to town! Your Houston Texans will be the team on Hard Knocks for the 2015 preseason, with the first episode set to air on HBO on Tuesday, August 11.
On Wednesday, after the team's first OTA session of the 2015 offseason, Texans owner Bob McNair and general manager Rick Smith joined NFL Films Supervising Producer Ken Rodgers and Director Matt Dissinger for a press conference where they made the announcement. The whole scene was a little surreal, insomuch as the Texans have never felt like a team that's been relevant enough to warrant selection on the show. However, coming off of a moderately surprising 9-7 season in 2014 and with plenty of HBO-able storylines, this team should carry enough intrigue to make for an entertaining five weeks.
McNair indicated that the team had been approached in the past about doing the show, but this season seemed like the timing was right. “We’ve considered it at other times. I think it is a good time for us," said McNair. "I think our franchise is ready to make a big move. We feel like we have a good team, but I think we’re going to be a better team this year than we were last year. We just want to keep climbing and keep improving. I think it’s an interesting story for people around the country to see what’s happening with our franchise.”
Conspicuous by his absence at the press conference on Wednesday was Texans head coach Bill O'Brien, who as a Bill Belichick disciple is just assumed by most people to dread the degree of access that NFL Films (and in turn, society) will have during the shooting of the show. At the press conference on Wednesday, many of the questions for McNair, Smith, and the NFL Films folks centered around this exact topic. For what it's worth, it does not appear to be a concern for McNair or Smith.
"The main thing that we’re going to emphasize is this is something that is not going to be a distraction for us. We’re going to go ahead and carry out our duties as we normally would. I think after a day or two everybody will be used to having the people around and it will be practice and business as usual," McNair said.
"You go to training camp for two primary reasons, to get your football team ready for the season and to figure out who the best 53 men are to accomplish your goals," Smith declared. "We feel like that by no stretch of the imagination is this going to prevent us from doing that. We feel very comfortable. We trust them. It’s a great partnership."
With everybody at the press conference locked in a figurative group hug yesterday, it's hard to tell just how much influence came from the league in selecting the Texans for the program, if any. McNair, for his part, seems to be thrilled (and appropriately so) with the chance to showcase his company. That said, after a 2014 that was marked with so much league-wide off-field violence and crime that Roger Goodell had to literally rewrite the league's conduct policy, the NFL has to be thrilled with a program that will likely morph into a five week infomercial on its most marketable star, J.J. Watt.
There are certainly additional subplots that will make for compelling television — an actual quarterback battle in training camp, Bill O'Brien on and off the field, Arian Foster cobbling together a few sonnets, to name a few. The NFL Films crew, truth be told, could make almost any team seem interesting with the way they develop personalities and the precision with which they do everything.
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They've done it with teams as nondescript as the Kansas City Chiefs in 2007, the Dolphins in 2012, and the Falcons last season. By the time the show made it to air, they all seemed like the Raiders of the late 70's. Now, it's the Texans turn.
"We in Houston know our team. We know our players. We know our coaches. We love them. We support them. We have great fun with it, but there are a lot of people around the country who aren’t familiar with us. So this is an opportunity for them to get to know what a great team and great organization we have. We’re delighted to have y’all with us, Ken (Rodgers),” McNair said, in opening yesterday's press conference.
As a media member tasked with generating content, allow me to echo that. We are delighted to have y'all with us, Ken.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast.