By Lino Garcia and Enrique Cano
The New York Jets were chosen by the National Football League (NFL) and NFL Films for the 2023 season of the Hard Knocks series that featured the Detroit Lions and the Arizona Cardinals in 2022.
Hard Knocks is an Emmy Award winning sports documentary series from NFL Films and HBO that first aired in 2001, when it followed the Baltimore Ravens, and has continued each NFL season since then. Last year it covered both the Lions and Cardinals, which was among the most popular seasons from the docuseries, partially because of the retirement of J.J. Watt at Arizona.
Hard Knocks covers training camps and the physical and mental preparation of the teams it features each season, in addition to documenting the personal and professional lives of players, and coaching staff including their family time and their personal battles. It also highlights the performance and onboarding of players chosen in the draft, and the challenges they faced to be part of it, as well as moments ripe with emotion, such as the retirement of the former Cardinals defensive back.
NFL picks Jets, but news doesn’t sit well with them
The NFL announcement that the team would be featured in the series’ 19th season for a second time since Season 6 in 2010, did not sit well this time with some members of the new Aaron Rodgers ‘Gang Green’ squad.
While this announcement was not well received by everyone on the team, it however has created great excitement among fans, as they will get a closer look at the revitalized squad, and especially Aaron Rodgers.
“They forced it down our throats and we have to deal with it”, said Rodgers. “Look, I understand the appeal with us. There’s a lot of eyes on me, a lot of eyes on our team, a lot of expectations for our squad”.
— New York Jets (@nyjets) July 15, 2023
Rodgers’ sentiment adds to statements by Jets coach Robert Saleh, who had previously expressed disinterest in appearing on the 2023 Hard Knocks season.
“I know there are a number of teams that would love to show up on ‘Hard Knocks’ and all I want to say is that we just aren’t one of them,” he said.
Being under such intense scrutiny with the added pressure of expectations thrust upon the coach, Rodgers and the rest of the team to deliver, and with so much to prove, is not necessarily a good thing and can be seen as an added distraction for a team that has under-performed over the last several seasons, and does not need further notoriety.
Aaron Rodgers Controversies
Then there is Aaron Rodgers himself. While the four time NFL MVP is considered one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, and his public controversies may make for good television, they can add even more distraction for the new team while it attempts to gel.
Among the past controversies are when he stated being “immunized” for Covid-19 that was found to be false after he tested positive months later and admitted he misled reporters but had undergone “alternative treatment”. On the subject of “alternative treatments”, there is Rodgers’ admitted use of the hallucinogenic Ayahuasca, a South American brew, which is illegal in the US because of its active ingredient–DMT. He stated that it helped his game and gained him “unconditional love for myself”. He has also stated that he plans to continue to use it.
That would certainly make for a very interesting episode. There are also his high profile relationships with Danica Patrick, Olivia Munn, and others, that haven’t always ended well, and the strained relationship with his family, that has been made very public.
The team had already expressed its disinterest in appearing this coming season while it was still just one of the possible candidates, but the NFL chose the team anyway… just because…?
Why were the Jets chosen?
There were only four teams that based on the NFLs rules, could have been ‘forced’ to participate in this years Hard Knocks series, because they failed to meet one of three criteria for exemption. Those criteria are, 1) a first year coach 2) made the playoffs in either of the last two seasons 3) appeared on the show within the last 10 years. Those teams were the Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints, Washington Commanders, and the New York Jets.
There are a number of good reasons why the NFL might have chosen the Jets to appear in the 19th season of the HBO documentary: A team with promising young talent, a big media-market , big names and acquisitions in free agency, and of course Aaron Rodgers who after spending 18 seasons with the Green Bay Packers, now provides a shot in the arm to the franchise which has not had a post-season appearance since 2010, or a winning record since 2015.
Likewise, cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, who was named 2022 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year after his first season last year, and running back Breece Hall, the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year in 2020, and 2021 who missed his rookie season with a torn ACL, will both have a chance to shine as examples of the prospects “Gang Green” has this season. There is also watching how Zack Wilson adapts to being a back-up quarterback, and if the promising Mehki Becton is able to effectively come back after injuries sidelined him all of last season.
In addition to the player narrative, there is also that of Robert Saleh, who as a third year coach is 11-23 in his two seasons with the team and is under pressure to earn them a playoff berth. He’s brought in a new offensive coordinator, Nathaniel Hackett, who after successful seasons with other teams around the league in that same role, was fired as a first year head coach with the Denver Broncos last year. Hackett knows Rodgers very well, after working three seasons closely with him at Green Bay during which time Rodgers won two back–to–back MVP awards, including when he led the team to the league’s best scoring offense in 2020.
2010 Hard Knocks NY Jets
The last time Gang Green was featured on the program in 2010, the colorful and outspoken Rex Ryan was head coach, Mark Sanchez was the quarterback and the team was coming off two unremarkable but winning seasons going into Ryan’s second year with the team.
That team seemed to embrace and relish being on the program with Ryan delivering some inspiring locker room speeches while rallying the team to its second best record in franchise history of 11-5. One such speech when he relayed that the team could go as far as it wanted to go, and outplay the other team at every single position, and that from its intensity had the room so quiet you could hear a pin drop, famously ended by Ryan saying now “let’s get a snack”.
Those Jets loved their coach and playing for him, and that came across in the episodes which showed a fun and playful group of players off the field letting their raw personalities break through for viewers to see.
There was also the Darrelle Revis contract negotiations which played out in real time and in detail on the show including tempers flying across the table as a frustrated Ryan expressed his anger at the stalled talks. With the uncertainty of whether Revis would play or not hanging in the air, the program included the dramatic moments of his return, and the absolute joy from all members of the team especially Ryan, which was great to see as a fan.
That season was the last time the NY Jets made the playoffs coming just short of beating the Steelers in the AFC East championship after a dramatic second half comeback.
That Steelers team by the way, eventually went on to lose to Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay in Super Bowl XLV.
While Rodgers has his well-founded reservations about being on the series, he also lightened up at one point saying, “One of the only things I like about Hard Knocks is the ‘voice of God’ who narrates it, Liev (Schrieber). I hope I get to meet him,” he said with a smile.
Will this year’s team be anything like the successful squad from 2010, or perhaps even provide as much excitement for viewers?
Cameras start rolling on July 19th at Jets training camp, with the first episode expected to air on HBO Tuesday, August 8th.