The last time the Bengals were on Hard Knocks, they swept the AFC North. The last time Hard Knocks starred the Bengals, the HBO series won an Emmy for Outstanding Edited Sports Series.
Both are hoping the lightning of 2009 strikes again.
"For us, that summer I think, took the series to a new level," said Ross Ketover, the series producer who sat down with head coach Marvin Lewis at Thursday's Paul Brown Stadium news conference. "They were a playoff team back when we were here four years ago, and they're a playoff team again now. But we looked at it, and it really is a totally different team. The quality is still just as good, and it's a totally new roster."
The 24-hour cameras and intrusive microphones that make Hard Knocks such good television are also why most teams have rejected the HBO offers so often that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is talking about rotating teams on the series. But Lewis said Thursday that the club's trust in NFL Films carried the day, as well as the belief that his team that has made the playoffs the past two seasons won't be distracted by the cameras when everybody reports Wednesday before Thursday's first practice and Friday's first public workout.
"The maturity of our group plays out," Lewis said. "It's got nothing to do about what the people from NFL Films are doing; it's what we are doing. They are going to try and capture that the best that they can. We can't worry about that. We've got some things internally that are important to us as a team. We have to go back to those things and stand on those same principles. It is time to shut your mouth and go back to work. We don't need to be doing some of the things that we like to do when we are not doing football, but now it is time to do football."
But Lewis says he found himself enjoying what they dug up the last time. This time around the Bengals are going to be working around five camera crews as well as eight robotic cameras in various offices, ranging from the draft room and site of the personnel meetings, to the offices of Lewis, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, running backs coach Hue Jackson, linebackers coach Paul Guenther, and secondary coach Mark Carrier, the office where Lewis holds his coaches meetings. Up to a dozen players and coaches are also expected to be miked during any one day.
"I find it funny because I'm not in every position room day to day but to see some of the coaching that goes on, and critiquing and correction with some of the guys and the beauty with how they are able to portray it is great, but never belittling the player," Lewis said.
Lewis and the team have the right to quash anything it sees in the final cut of each of the six shows. But if Lewis had it back, he wouldn't edit out his emotional postgame plea "to act like a pro" in the wake of a miserable 24-21 preseason loss to the Rams.
Even though he thinks that kind of stuff should remain in-house and that he still keeps getting reminded of it. As recently as Wednesday, actually.
But he kept it in.
"Because at that point, what's done is done," Lewis said. "I have the opportunity to see what's going to go on the air that evening. We don't want anything to do with football, our football and what we're doing and our communication with football to be on the show. That's really what we're looking for is to make sure that we keep things strict to us confidential."
But then again, he's not sure how much of it really matters. Especially after Cincinnati's excruciating 17-13 loss to the Hard Knocks Dolphins at PBS last season.
"The Dolphins did it last season, and they beat us here last season. I watched Coach (Joe) Philbin and his staff, I watched the shows. So I know it," Lewis said. "And before we did it last time, I was given the Chiefs and the Cowboys to watch and see and if you're not gaining anything as a coach because I could sit and in 30 seconds gain something and I don't feel it helped us one bit versus the Dolphins last year.
"I don't remember one thing that occurred and I sat down and took notes. It's nothing we can't gain from the videotape that we do each and every day."
Lewis had to admit that he was surprised over the outrage expressed in 2009 when the Bengals cut a player in the wee hours of the morning before he woke up. But Lewis said The Turk will still call early.
"You don't want to go up to the guy in the cafeteria and say you are going to let him go. If it was you guys (the media) we would do it in front of everyone," he said. "You want to make it as private as you can. You want to treat him with the respect that he has for you and minimize the emotional part as much as you can."