BOURBONNAIS – The HBO series “Hard Knocks” kicked off this week in Cincinnati, which is roughly 260 miles from Olivet Nazarene University.
As far as some Bears are concerned, that distance is just about perfect.
For fans, the series represents a rare opportunity to see players beyond the field. Cameras take us into cafeterias, meeting rooms and dorm rooms and show the supposed realities of what life is like for coaches and players in the NFL.
The Bengals are in the spotlight for the second time in the series’ eight-season history. They also were featured in 2009, while other teams who have starred in “Hard Knocks” include the Baltimore Ravens (2001), Dallas Cowboys (2002, 2008), Kansas City Chiefs (2007), New York Jets (2010) and Miami Dolphins (2012).
Veteran offensive lineman Matt Slauson participated in the series as a member of the Jets in 2010. He joined the Bears this season after four years in New York.
Asked to grade his “Hard Knocks” experience on a scale of fun to annoying, Slauson sighed and pondered the question.
“It’s not really fun,” Slauson said.
That would leave annoying.
Slauson had a better description: frustrating.
“As a player, you do watch the shows,” Slauson said. “And it does get very frustrating how much they cut and paste.”
This probably should shock no one with a cerebrum, cerebellum and brain stem. Reality television is to reality what convenience store seafood is to seafood.
In the quest for ratings, tension trumps all.
“They try to create controversy and create stories where there’s not really a story,” Slauson said. “They will interview somebody and ask them about a player, and then they’ll use that clip to talk about a different player.”
That’s really low.
“I know,” Slauson said. “It’s awful. But it’s what they do. They have to get people to watch, so whatever.”
Don’t expect the series to come to Bourbonnais any time soon.
Not this year, not next year.
If I were to guess, I’d extend that phrase to not this decade, not next decade.
Bears general manager Phil Emery is polite and friendly with reporters, but he guards team secrets like a night watchman at the Smithsonian. It’s beyond difficult to imagine Emery and Marc Trestman inviting cameras into meeting rooms while coaches analyzed film and prepared for the next game on the schedule.
Last year, Emery all but closed the door on the possibility of hosting “Hard Knocks.”
“To me, it’s all about football,” Emery said. “Personally, no, but if that was in the best interest of the club, I’m sure we would all consider it.”
Maybe if the Bears were starved for publicity, extra cameras and microphones would make sense. But they are by far the most popular team in Chicago, including the Blackhawks, who have won two Stanley Cup championships in four seasons.
Bears defensive tackle Stephen Paea said he watched the series but did not mind other teams hogging the spotlight.
“It’s a distraction,” Paea said. “A lot of guys won’t be themselves in front of cameras.”
Even if players were authentic, who knows which scenes the series would air?
That’s part of what bugged Slauson so much.
“It did give fans a little bit of a glimpse into what camp was like, but what they showed, sometimes it made us kind of look bad,” Slauson said. “The way that we’re seeing ourselves being portrayed, it was like, ‘That’s not really what camp is like. It’s not just a joke-around fest. I mean, this is serious stuff here.’ ”
In reality, Slauson said, an all-access series about camp would be pretty dull.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Slauson said. “Camp for us is boring. I’ve got zero time to do anything fun, so I’m just sitting in meetings and going to practice and then more meetings and bed. So, I mean, there’s not really a whole lot to show there.”
At least the series could show the Bears’ faces, which could help a guy like Paea. Sometimes, the burly Samoan is mistaken for teammate Roberto Garza.
“Football is a game of guys with helmets,” Paea said with a smile. “A lot of fans don’t know what I look like. They sometimes call me ‘Garza’ because I’m brown and I have the Mohawk.”
Some face time on TV could help.
“They would get familiar with the names easier,” Paea said.
Garza, er, Paea has a point.
• Shaw Media sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.