Editor’s note: This list was first published in 2016 and has been updated with the Raiders’ 2019 appearance on “Hard Knocks.”
For the first time it appears two teams — the Rams and Chargers — will be in the NFL spotlight as the subjects of the league’s popular HBO reality series “Hard Knocks,” chronicling training camp. If there are training camps this summer, that is.
What lies ahead for the Rams and Chargers? If the previous 14 seasons of “Hard Knocks” are any indication, lots of drama, crushing injuries and maybe even a brawl or two.
Here are the most memorable highlights of “Hard Knocks”:
Season 1, 2001: Baltimore Ravens
The defending Super Bowl champions dealt with the season-ending knee injury to star running back Jamal Lewis, and cameras captured the moment when coach Brian Billick received the phone call detailing the severity of the injury. The most memorable moment came during the rookie show, when linebacker Tim Johnson did a spot-on impersonation of tight end Shannon Sharpe. Johnson re-enacted the time Sharpe was locked in the meeting room by defensive tackle Tony Siragusa and wanted his “restitution.” The shot of Sharpe and linebacker Ray Lewis laughing uncontrollably remains one of the series’ most light-hearted moments.
Season result: The Ravens went 10-6 and advanced to the divisional round of the playoffs, where they lost in Pittsburgh.
— Jamison Hensley
Season 2, 2002: Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys were a team in transition with only Emmitt Smith remaining from the days of the team’s renowned “Triplets.” After a 5-11 finish in 2001, the Cowboys believed they were on to better things in Dave Campo’s third year coaching. The Cowboys definitely lived up to the made-for-TV moments: Chad Hutchinson, fighting for the starting quarterback job, spent time playing the guitar with receiver Richmond Flowers; receiver Anthony Lucas’ gut-wrenching call on Jerry Jones’ phone after he tore up his knee for the second year in a row; and George Foreman speaking to the team. The lasting image from this “Hard Knocks” season was Campo in a wet suit during a break in camp at SeaWorld in San Antonio playing with the dolphins.
Season result: The Cowboys finished 5-11 for the third straight year. Campo was fired and replaced by Bill Parcells.
— Todd Archer
Season 3, 2007: Kansas City Chiefs
Quarterback Casey Printers was incredulous when told by Ray Farmer, the Chiefs’ personnel director, that he would be released. Printers wasn’t good in training camp or the preseason, but he might have played better than any of the other Chiefs quarterbacks. “Hard Knocks” made a cult hero of Bobby Sippio, a journeyman wide receiver who joined the Chiefs in the middle of training camp after injuries struck hard at the position.
Season result: The Chiefs, after winning four of their first seven games, lost their final nine to finish 4-12.
— Adam Teicher
Season 4, 2008: Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys took to Hollywood this season. After going 13-3 in 2007, they were viewed as Super Bowl contenders with quarterback Tony Romo, receiver Terrell Owens, tight end Jason Witten and linebacker DeMarcus Ware among 13 Pro Bowlers from the previous season. The Cowboys added cornerback Adam Jones and defensive tackle Tank Johnson, who both had faced legal troubles in Tennessee and Chicago, respectively. The Cowboys had memorable practices against the Denver Broncos that featured a back-and-forth between Jones and receiver Brandon Marshall.
Season result: The Cowboys finished 9-7 and were torn apart from within. It didn’t help that Romo missed three games with a broken pinky. The team closed with two losses, including a 44-6 debacle to Philadelphia in the finale. As he walked off the field, Johnson said aloud, “I’m a free agent, baby.”
— Todd Archer
Season 5, 2009: Cincinnati Bengals
HBO’s portrayal of the 2009 Bengals earned the team and the network a pair of Emmys. It was during this installment of “Hard Knocks” that football fans were more broadly introduced to receiver Chad Johnson (then Ochocinco) and his “child, please” and “kiss the baby” catchphrases. They also met Chris Henry, the embattled but up-and-coming receiver whose quiet personality endeared him to team president Mike Brown. In December of that year, Henry died when he fell off the back of a truck. Brown later said he thought the ability of “Hard Knocks” to tell personal stories about his players humanized the team and helped change people’s view of the Bengals.
Season result: Cincinnati went 10-6 before losing in the wild-card round of the playoffs to the Jets.
— Coley Harvey
Season 6, 2010: New York Jets
It’s still the highest-rated “Hard Knocks” in series history. Colorful coach Rex Ryan stole the show, entertaining many — and annoying some — with his R-rated vocabulary and nonstop sense of humor. The highlight was the “snack” speech. In a team meeting on the eve of a preseason game, the then-portly Ryan punctuated a tirade by barking at his players, “Let’s go eat a goddamned snack!” The season also featured cornerback Darrelle Revis’ contentious holdout. In the final scene of the final episode, Revis — after signing a new contract — walked out to practice and rejoined his teammates, who greeted him with a “Rudy” clap.
Season result: The Jets went 11-5 and lost in the AFC Championship Game.
— Rich Cimini
Season 7, 2012: Miami Dolphins
The seventh season of “Hard Knocks” was highlighted by the introduction of then-rookie head coach Joe Philbin and the sudden ending to the career of receiver Chad Johnson. Philbin came off as a stickler for minute details in his first year, including one curious instance in which he picked up trash off the practice field. Philbin also had a short leash on Johnson, who got into a domestic incident with his former wife. In a memorable scene, Philbin brought Johnson into his office and cut him from the team. It turned out to be Johnson’s final shot in the NFL.
Season result: The Dolphins went 7-9 and were mostly competitive in 2012 with a rookie coach and rookie quarterback in Ryan Tannehill. However, they failed to post a winning season for the fourth straight year. The streak would reach seven until the Dolphins finished 10-6 and reached the playoffs last season.
— James Walker
Season 8, 2013: Cincinnati Bengals
One of the most-asked questions as it relates to the 2013 Bengals is this: Does Giovani Bernard still drive the minivan? Thanks to “Hard Knocks,” viewers learned the rookie running back drove a van belonging to his girlfriend’s mother to training camp in Cincinnati as he started getting his bearings in the new city. He no longer drives it. This season also told the story of defensive tackle Larry Black. After a promising start to the summer, the Cincinnati native and undrafted free agent suffered a season-ending ankle injury in a practice. The injury gave a raw glimpse at how quickly dreams can be delayed in the NFL.
Season result: Cincinnati went 11-5 before losing in the wild-card round of the playoffs to the Chargers.
— Coley Harvey
Season 9, 2014: Atlanta Falcons
The most memorable moment from a rather dull season of “Hard Knocks” with the Falcons was the number of fights that arose, some of which appeared to be staged. It started immediately with linebacker Kroy Biermann getting into it with rookie offensive tackle Jake Matthews. Then-coach Mike Smith was more vocal and demonstrative than normal, particularly when it came to regulating the fighting. Joe Hawley, Ra’Shede Hageman and Jacques Smith were involved in the fight as well. Hageman was portrayed as an out-of-control, out-of-shape rookie who kept getting frustrated with himself, which he didn’t appreciate when the episodes aired.
Season result: The Falcons finished 6-10 and missed the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
— Vaughn McClure
Season 10, 2015: Houston Texans
Texans coach Bill O’Brien wasn’t delighted to be on the show but wound up one of its biggest personalities. The show documented a set of brawls during joint practices with Washington and also the Texans’ decision to choose Brian Hoyer as the team’s starting quarterback over Ryan Mallett. Cornerback Charles James and receiver EZ Nwachukwu became fan favorites who then were released by the Texans when they cut the roster to 53 players. James eventually returned.
Season result: The quarterback drama continued after the Texans stopped being filmed, and they started 2-5. They recovered to become a 9-7 playoff team but lost in the first round.
— Tania Ganguli
Season 11, 2016: Los Angeles Rams
A running theme throughout the show was the bizarre convictions of veteran defensive end William Hayes, who firmly disregarded any proof that dinosaurs ever existed and proudly clung to his belief that mermaids might actually be out there. It prompted a trip to the museum, where Hayes hilariously dismissed the fossils on display. It led to a training camp visit by a woman dressed in an Ariel costume. Said Hayes: “This is not something I just thought of a couple years ago. This is something I’ve always believed in.”
Season result: No mermaid or dinosaur, real or otherwise, could have saved the Rams in 2016. Their first season back in Los Angeles was a disaster. They had the worst offense in the NFL, lost their last seven games and finished 4-12. Their longtime head coach, Jeff Fisher, was fired before it was over.
— Alden Gonzalez
Season 12, 2017: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Quarterback Jameis Winston took center stage as cameras followed him everywhere, including to his childhood home in Bessemer, Alabama, where he stomped on a cockroach and declared, “This cockroach havin’ a baby! This cockroach havin’ a baby, for real! Or they mating. It’s one of ’em.'” But the highlight of the season had to be when the Bucs decided they had to cut kicker Roberto Aguayo, a year after trading up in the second round to draft him. After a dismal rookie season, Aguayo’s struggles continued in training camp, and he was beaten out by veteran Nick Folk. GM Jason Licht said to coach Dirk Koetter, “(Aguayo) can make 20 of his last 20 kicks and then go to a game and nobody’s confident he’s going to make it — not even an extra point. … It’s just such a bigger mistake to keep holding on to him.” The young kicker fought back tears when he got the news from Licht and Koetter: “I let you guys down. I let myself down.”
Season result: The Bucs said all along the show would not be a distraction — and maybe it wasn’t — but the team that many believed would make the playoffs regressed in 2017, posting two five-game losing streaks on their way to a 5-11 season. Winston, who had never missed a game in his first two seasons, sat for five games because of a shoulder injury.
— Jenna Laine
Season 13, 2018: Cleveland Browns
Rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield was in the spotlight during Season 13, from the signing of his contract to the RV he rented for the quarterbacks during camp to an early interaction with then-head coach Hue Jackson that might have hinted at what was to come. Jackson encouraged Mayfield to show up first every morning like veteran QB Tyrod Taylor. “You start your career how you want to, you see what I’m saying? It’s a competition, everything you do, baby,” Jackson said to Mayfield, who didn’t seem all that interested in the advice. Jackson was fired on Oct. 29 and joined the Bengals staff, a move that bothered Mayfield, who called his former coach “fake” on social media.
Season result: Jackson was fired after a 2-5-1 start and the Browns turned things around under interim coach Gregg Williams and offensive coordinator (and future head coach) Freddie Kitchens. Mayfield set an NFL rookie record with 27 touchdown passes and led the Browns to a 5-3 record the rest of the way, creating hope in Cleveland for the first time in years.
— Pat McManamon
Season 14, 2019: Las Vegas Raiders
Antonio Brown dominated the storylines throughout Season 14 after his ugly split and trade from the Steelers in March 2019. From a foot injury that kept him from practicing to a grievance filed with the league over the helmet he was being forced to wear, Brown was all over every episode. One smaller moment that stood out came before one of his only pre-practice walk-throughs. His children, on the field with him before practice, asked why he isn’t on the black team anymore, the Steelers. Then they asked, “Where’s [Ben] Roethlisberger?” his longtime quarterback. “He plays with the Steelers,” Brown said. “My quarterback is Derek now. We don’t play with Roethlisberger no more. We play with the Raiders. We play with Derek Carr.” Turned out Brown never got to play with Carr — the Raiders granted the receiver’s request to be released on Sept. 7.
Season result: The Raiders finished 7-9, tied for second place in the AFC West in their final season in Oakland before moving to Las Vegas.