As we exit the football season of the pandemic, it’s hard to say what the offseason and training camp for the Giants will look like in 2021. But there is a chance we could get a very up-close look at whatever form it takes.
The Giants are one of six teams that the NFL could require to appear on the annual HBO series "Hard Knocks." The program and the league always are looking for volunteers to be the centerpiece of the show, but in lieu of anyone stepping forward, there are protocols in place in which a team could be required to participate.
There are three criteria for such teams: They need to have not made the playoffs in either of the past two years, not have a first-year head coach and not have been on the program at any point in the last 10 years.
This year, five teams check those boxes: the Cowboys, Broncos, Panthers, Cardinals . . . and Giants.
Most of the last few times the Giants qualified for forced inclusion, they were fairly, well, dull. It’s unlikely that Ben McAdoo or Pat Shurmur would have lit up the screen with their witticisms and personae.
But this year? Who wouldn’t love to sit in on meetings with Joe Judge? Who wouldn’t like to see behind-the-scenes action of Saquon Barkley’s return from a torn ACL? Who wouldn’t want to hear the way Guge and Sean "Coach Chaos" Spencer and Patrick Graham and Freddie Kitchens howl at the players during practices?
And Daniel Jones? Well, he would be on the show in some regard as well.
This probably is not something the Giants would enjoy as much as the rest of the world might. John Mara once said the Giants would be on "Hard Knocks" "when I’m next to my father in Gates of Heaven cemetery." And Judge? As much of a showman as he has become in his news conferences, he seems more keen about delivering one-liners and textbook football knowledge than he does about divulging anything more than the absolute minimum regarding the specifics of his team.
Other teams would have a chance at being entertaining and resurrecting a franchise show that has lost some of its sizzle in recent years and relied on the gimmick of splitting the show between the two Los Angeles teams last year.
Imagine the interior shots of Kliff Kingsbury’s living room and Kyler Murray shopping at Gap Kids. Matt Rhule would be a fascinating study as head coach of the Panthers, but there isn’t much juice elsewhere in the organization. The Broncos? Zzzzz.
The Cowboys appeared on the program in 2008 with Tony Romo and Jason Witten and an undrafted scrub named Danny Amendola trying to make the team. They could do a reboot — a third appearance, actually, given that they were on in 2002 in the second season of the series — with their new cast and include the return of Dak Prescott (not to mention the negotiations over his next contract).
The Cowboys, though, always are front and center. They probably don’t need 24/7 coverage to create any more drama or conflict or interest. And it’s unlikely that the show would want a third version with the same team.
That leaves the Giants, the white whale HBO undoubtedly has been trying to harpoon since the launch of the first episode of "Hard Knocks" in 2001.
Will this be the year they land the great beast? If no other team volunteers, this could be their best chance at it. If the Giants have the kind of sustained success they imagine themselves having for the next cycle of years, it could be their last chance at it for a while.
It's worth noting that no team has ever been forced to participate in "Hard Knocks." There always has been a volunteer, and HBO does not want to force anyone to do so because having a team kicking and screaming over access would not produce a quality show.
It’s also worth noting that the old-guard, family-run teams in the league — such as the Giants, Steelers, Packers, Bears and Lions — hardly ever star on the program. It’s often a somewhat younger team that is looking to expand its brand, showcase its new front office, or generate buzz and new fans that raises its hand when the network starts calling around in the spring. The staid and mumsy Giants are a long shot to embrace that mentality anytime soon . . . unless they have to.
Just like everything else in 2021, we’ll have to wait and see how this turns out.