baker mayfield-cleveland browns-hard knocks

There was a brief moment in time that Hard Knocks was on thin ice. NFL coaches and teams are always reticent to allow any sort of outside intrusion or distraction and treat the inner workings of their franchises like it’s Area 51. But when volunteers for the popular HBO training camp series started drying up, the league put into place certain criteria that made teams eligible for mandatory selection.

Since those rules went into place (teams that didn’t make the playoffs or had a new coach or had prevously been on the series) HBO has been guaranteed a participant. This offseason there were six eligible teams – the Browns, Chargers, Ravens, Redskins, Broncos, and 49ers.

There were valid reasons for picking any one of those teams – a Super Bowl QB in Joe Flacco trying to *cough* reclaim his elite status or Jimmy Garappolo’s ascent in San Francisco for example. But for HBO and the NFL, there was one story above all that piqued their interest – the Cleveland Browns trying to come back from an 0-16 season.

What’s interesting is that both the NFL and HBO seem to be very excited to feature the Browns’ story this summer. It’s the first time anyone has been excited to see the Browns in… well, a really long time.

Via the AP:

“It’s an underdog story,” said network executive Peter Nelson. “And people love rooting for underdogs.”

Despite the Browns’ 0-16 record last season and dismal decades of futility for one of the league’s signature franchises, NFL Films insists the Browns are the team it wanted to feature most on “Hard Knocks,” the award-winning documentary series that takes fans behind the scenes for an in-depth look at the grind — and the drama — of training camp.

“We got the team we wanted,” said Ken Rodgers, NFL Films VP senior coordinating producer, “our No. 1 pick, the Browns, to be on our show. We think it’s the right time with the right team.”

[…]

“What we generally think of when we select a team is, who would the national audience be interested in finding out what’s going on, what’s going on with the team? And nationally now, the Browns are a big story, rightfully so.”

Will the Browns draw in extra viewers? It’s not often that a team that struggles so much can make that claim but the Browns are by far the most interesting story to be captured on Hard Knocks in some time. Seriously, how many people do you know who aren’t hardcore NFL junkies were really captivated by the Buccaneers last year? Or even the Rams moving back to Los Angeles? Before that it was the Texans, Falcons, and Bengals. And while some of the other teams in the running this year certainly have sizable followings like the Broncos and Redskins, the Browns’ comeback from 0-16 is way more interesting than anything else on offer.

One could make the argument that it’s really all the way back to 2012 when the Dolphins released Chad Johnson with the Hard Knocks cameras rolling that we really had a transcendent moment or storyline from the series that captured a wider audience. Can the Browns recreate something like that for HBO and the NFL? It’s impossible to predict, but this is only the second time in history a team will have to come back from an 0-16 season. And with some signs of hope and promise in Baker Mayfield and the dramatic reboot happening in Cleveland, maybe now is the time to get America on board to see if the underdog story can actually come to life.

[AP]

About Matt Yoder

Award winning sportswriter at The Comeback and Awful Announcing. The biggest cat in the whole wide world.