One can forgive Ross Greenburg for having more than a professional interest in HBO Sports's latest entry in its Hard Knocks: Training Camp franchise.
"I was lucky enough to see Super Bowl III with Joe Willie [Namath]. My dad had season tickets to the [New York] Jets because he couldn't get them for the [New York] Giants," said Greenburg during an Aug. 3 interview over breakfast at HBO's Manhattan headquarters
The president of HBO Sports spent two days last week in Cortland, N.Y., the summer home of the Jets. With 11 cameras in action, HBO, in conjunction with NFL Films, is capturing the sights and sounds as Gang Green prepares for the upcoming NFL season. The first installment of Hard Knocks: Training With The New York Jets will premiere on the premium channel on Aug. 11 at 10 p.m.
Shooting up to 250 hours per week, Greenburg calls Hard Knocks one of the "quickest turnarounds on TV." While much of the footage is edited on Tuesday night, sometimes work on the reality series, featuring narration by Liev Schreiber, can continue until just an hour before airtime.
Although some additional content winds up on HBO.com and NFL.com, most of what is shot is seen in some capacity on air. "An hour is a long time without commercial breaks," said Greenburg, noting that the game plan for this Hard Knocks' opener will focus on All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis, who at press time was holding out in contract dispute, for "two or three minutes."
HBO Sports wanted to put the Jets under the Hard Knocks spotlight last summer. But general manager Mike Tannenbaum, with whom Greenburg has been friends with for years, didn't think the timing was right with a rookie coach in Rex Ryan and a first year signal-caller in Mark Sanchez. Greenburg said kept in touch throughout the season and when the team made went on its playoff run to the AFC championship game, "we really went after it."
Greenburg believes the Jets organization is undergoing a sea change with Ryan, the outspoken leader, who will be front and center during Hard Knocks. "Rex has set the tone for the franchise. He wants Jets to be the toughest team in the league, the best defense in the league, with or without Revis," he said. "Hard Knocks is a perfect with the Jets."
Given the size of New York market, the look at the Jets could send the series skyward with the Nielsens. HBO officials said interest has built in each Hard Knocks season, which began when in 2001, when Ryan was a defensive coach for the then-defending world champion Baltimore Ravens, and has included a couple of looks at the Dallas Cowboys,plus the Kansas City Chiefs and last year with Cincinnati Bengals, which made a surprise playoff run of their own, before losing to Jets on Wild Card weekend. Last year, the series cumed an average of 3.4 million watchers during its weekly airing on HBO and its multiplexes.
HBO Sports also will look to give the show a jolt with a rally in Times Square on Aug. 10, featuring former Jets players, owner Woody Johnson and Ryan, answering questions via satellite from Cortland, as the team looks to puts its legacy of frustration behind it and begins its quest to capture Super Bowl XLV.
A name synonymous with the Big Game is subject of the next HBO Sports documentary. Working with NFL Films, Lombardi is scheduled for a Dec. 11 kickoff.
"People know Vince Lombardi for his motto ‘winning isn't everything, it's the only thing' and that NFL players aspire to hoist the Lombardi trophy every season. But I think who he really was has been lost on a couple of generations," said Greenburg.
He underlines the point by noting that when NFL Films president Steve Sabol and he recently looked at rough cuts, they marveled at how much they didn't know about Lombardi.
"Most people think he just landed in Green Bay. We're going to tell the whole story from his playing at Fordham [as one of the legendary ‘seven blocks of granite'], coaching in New Jersey, as an assistant coach with the New York Giants, his legendary time at Green Bay and finally with the Washington Redskins," said Greenburg.
Lombardi is the third of three docs from HBO Sports this year, following Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals, whose battles and friendship transformed both college and pro basketball, and Broad Street Bullies, a look at the rough-and-tumble Philadelphia Flyers, the National Hockey League champions in 1973-74 and 1974-75.
Greenburg won't tip his hand directly on projects for next year, other than to say HBO Sports has been working on something about tennis and basketball. Looking ahead, there could be more collegiate tales.
"We really hadn't mined the college ranks that much until the last few years with [Michigan vs. Ohio State: The Rivalry] and [Battle For Tobacco Road: Duke vs. Carolina]. "There's a lot of richness and opportunity" with colleges, Greenburg said.
He also points to his own roots. While he grew up in the New York area, he was born in Texas: "I guess I owe something on the Longhorns."
Looking ahead, HBO Sports will continue to do more deep dives on boxing, via the Emmy Award-winning 24/7 franchise, which expanded last year by taking a look at NASCAR champion Jimmy Johnson during his run-up to the Daytona 500. Greenburg said HBO Sports has been talking "to a lot of people, and other leagues" and expects to soon make announcements about the series entering new venues.
Asked if that might include a venture to South Beach and American Airlines Arena, where the Miami Heat now showcase the new triumvirate of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade. Greenburg replied by saying that he knows NBA commissioner David Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver well. However, HBO Sports had not asked about that "in particular, not yet."