Looking back at the history of HBO and NFL's ‘Hard Knocks'

The show is back in 2023 with the New York Jets in the spotlight

NBC Universal, Inc.

The first week of preseason games is almost here, which means “Hard Knocks” has arrived.

The HBO reality show has gone behind the curtain of NFL teams for over two decades, giving fans a look at the ramp-up to the regular season. From intense practices to cutdown meetings to other antics, the program offers a wide glance at the day-to-day machinations of a franchise.

With the new season underway, here is a guide to the history of “Hard Knocks.”

When was “Hard Knocks” created?

NFL Films and HBO debuted “Hard Knocks” in 2001 by documenting the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. 

The show ran for two years before going off the air from 2003 to 2006. It returned in 2007 and has been on every year since.

When was in-season “Hard Knocks” created?

The NFL added a new, in-season “Hard Knocks” series in 2021. The Indianapolis Colts were at the center of the debut season, and the Arizona Cardinals were featured in 2022. 

Who narrates “Hard Knocks”?

Liev Schreiber has lent his voice to “Hard Knocks” since its creation with the exception of one season. Kansas City Chiefs superfan Paul Rudd got to narrate the 2007 version starring his favorite team.

Which NFL teams have been on “Hard Knocks”?

Here is the list of teams that have appeared on the preseason version of “Hard Knocks.”

  • 2001: Baltimore Ravens
  • 2002: Dallas Cowboys
  • 2007: Kansas City Chiefs
  • 2008: Dallas Cowboys
  • 2009: Cincinnati Bengals
  • 2010: New York Jets
  • 2011: None (aired series retrospective as labor uncertainty kept teams from committing)
  • 2012: Miami Dolphins
  • 2013: Cincinnati Bengals
  • 2014: Atlanta Falcons
  • 2015: Houston Texans
  • 2016: Los Angeles Rams
  • 2017: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • 2018: Cleveland Browns
  • 2019: Oakland Raiders
  • 2020: Los Angeles Chargers and Los Angeles Rams
  • 2021: Dallas Cowboys
  • 2022: Detroit Lions

How does the NFL choose which team will be on “Hard Knocks”?

NFL teams can volunteer for “Hard Knocks,” but for the most part, it’s up to the league to determine the show’s subject each year.

Since 2013, the NFL has used three parameters to determine a team’s “Hard Knocks” eligibility:

  • Must have missed the playoffs in the two prior seasons
  • Must have a head coach who has been with the team for at least one season
  • Has not participated in the show in a decade

Only four teams met those qualifications for 2023: the Jets, Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints and Washington Commanders.

Who is on “Hard Knocks” in 2023?

“Hard Knocks” is in the Big Apple to visit Aaron Rodgers and the Jets this summer.

The Jets join the Cowboys, Bengals and Rams as teams to appear on the preseason version of the show multiple times.

It has not yet been announced which team will appear on the in-season edition of the show.

Is there a “Hard Knocks” curse?

In general, “Hard Knocks” teams do not have a strong track record, but the Jets are an exception.
Seven of the 20 “Hard Knocks” teams made the playoffs the same season and only one reached the conference title game: the 2010 Jets. That also marks the last time the Jets made the NFL postseason, so another appearance on “Hard Knocks” could be viewed as a good omen.

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