The "Hard Knocks" production crew followed the Bengals to Flowery Branch for the team's practice with the Falcons last summer. Now the Falcons are the focus of the HBO program. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM
Photo: Curtis Compton
Photo: Curtis Compton

Mike Check: Can HBO's 'Hard Knocks' make Falcons seem exciting?

The Falcons make their debut on HBO’s "Hard Knocks" tonight. When the Falcons announced they’d be the subject of the documentary program, AJC colleague Jeff Schultz said it was a mistake because the it would create a “clown show” and be distracting for a team coming off a 4-12 season.

I tend to disagree. Clowns are funny and entertaining, after all. (Well, at least they are to most people.)

I’m not sure if the presence of HBO’s cameras at Flowery Branch this summer will make much of a difference because I’m not sure if those cameras will find much real drama with the Falcons. The Falcons are an aggressively boring organization—and that was true even before the Dolphins’ hazing scandal put all teams on edge.

HBO has virtually unlimited access to the Falcons and editors to parse all that video down to the best bits. But I’m still guessing they won’t get much beyond the staid messaging that defines the public face of the Falcons. The most compelling reason for me to watch is to figure out if "Hard Knocks" actually can make the Falcons seem exciting.

No doubt the Falcons are purposely dull in part because they got all the excitement they could handle from their star player's association with Bad Newz Kennels. That’s understandable. Also, like many sports teams, the Falcons get so paranoid about sensitive information getting out and maintaining a positive image that all information starts to look sensitive and image becomes everything. That's just the way it goes.

Trying to be boring may not the best way for the Falcons to “connect with fans,” which was one of Arthur Blank’s stated reasons for welcoming "Hard Knocks." The money keeps rolling in, though, so who am I to say? Put a quality product on the field and win football games and it hardly matters if fans feel connected to the team.

That could be known as the "Patriots Plan." Lots of sports franchises try to copy the clinched-spinchter PR part of that formula but never master the quality product and winning. I’ve covered six professional teams during my 16-plus years as a sports hack (in order): Packers, Brewers, Dolphins, Heat, Hawks and Falcons. Two of those franchises didn’t worry much about managing their image in the media.

Can you guess which two?

Of course the Falcons aren’t the only buttoned-down, corporate franchise in the NFL. The culture of the league (and of football in general) is for players to not rock the boat by saying provocative things. But the Falcons are pretty lifeless even when graded on that curve.

It doesn’t take players long to get the message that, with the Falcons, boring is best. If players ever forget that mantra and are tempted to go off script with a reporter, there’s always a PR staffer hovering nearby to provide a tacit reminder.

The only Falcons player who seems immune to this chilling effect is Roddy White, who is bound to say what’s on his mind no matter if it might ruffle feathers. Sometimes it's to White's detriment to be unfiltered but usually his warmth and good nature come through. Access to White generally is limited for us normal media; HBO won’t have that issue so perhaps Rowdy Roddy can liven up Hard Knocks.

If not, at least the Falcons have helped out the "Hard Knocks" narrative by getting in a few scuffles early in camp--fighting is the focus of the teaser for tonight's episode. I’ll be tuning in at 10 p.m. to see if that’s the most interesting thing HBO can find on the Falcons.

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