Since its debut in 2001, “Hard Knocks” has focused on good teams (the 2008 Dallas Cowboys were coming off a 13-3 season) and bad teams (the 4-12 Atlanta Falcons going into 2014). But never on a team too bad to even win a game.
“The storylines in Cleveland are compelling, which make the Browns an ideal partner on ‘Hard Knocks,'” said Ross Ketover, an NFL Films senior executive.
There is something compelling about the Browns, although it is not football excellence. The team has not made the playoffs since 2002 and has not won a playoff game since being reborn in 1999. It has put up season records that include 2-14, 3-13 (twice) and 4-12 (five times), before the pièce de résistance: back-to-back 1-15 and 0-16 seasons that set new standards for football futility.
One compelling storyline when the show debuts Aug. 7 will no doubt be coach Hue Jackson, who has somehow kept his job.
“We are excited about what we are building within our organization and feel good about the progress we have made this offseason,” Jackson said optimistically.
Another is the quarterback situation. The Browns have struggled to find an adequate starter, using 29 quarterbacks since returning to Cleveland, including such long-forgotten signal-callers as Spergon Wynn, Thad Lewis and Ken Dorsey and the probably better forgotten Johnny Manziel. Last year’s starter, rookie DeShone Kizer, put up poor numbers, and the Browns have since acquired Tyrod Taylor from the Buffalo Bills and drafted Heisman-Trophy winner Baker Mayfield out of Oklahoma with the No. 1 pick.
“We’re looking forward to showing NFL fans around the world what the Haslams, John Dorsey, Hue Jackson and the coaching staff are doing to rebuild the team and reboot one of the most iconic franchises in sports,” Ketover added, seriously stretching the meaning of “iconic.”
The Browns agreed to participate, as have other teams featured in the series.
In an HBO news release, the team owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam said they had been contacted about being on “Hard Knocks” multiple times over the years, but that the timing was not right until this year.
“Organizationally, we are confident about where we are headed, but we have a lot of work to do in order for this franchise to earn the respect of our fans on the field,” they acknowledged.
Over the years, some teams have been hesitant about appearing on the show, worried about the distractions of dozens of cameras. The New England Patriots have never appeared, for example, and it is hard to imagine Bill Belichick welcoming HBO with open arms.
“Like many, I was reluctant about being the featured team on ‘Hard Knocks,’ but once we sat down and talked about it as an organization, I feel a lot better and understand why the time is right,” said John Dorsey, the team's general manager.
Fears that the show can hurt a team seem to be unfounded. Of the 12 teams featured, five did better the next season and five did worse.
One thing is for sure: The Browns will not do worse.
“Hard Knocks” Seasons
2001: Baltimore Ravens
2002: Dallas Cowboys
2007: Kansas City Chiefs
2008: Dallas Cowboys
2009: Cincinnati Bengals
2010: New York Jets
2012: Miami Dolphins
2013: Cincinnati Bengals
2014: Atlanta Falcons
2015: Houston Texans
2016: Los Angeles Rams
2017: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2018: Cleveland Browns
This article originally appeared in The New York Times