Brown hopes 'Hard Knocks' changes minds

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJuly 29, 2009 

CINCINNATI — It makes sense that a reality show that chronicles the training camp experiences of an NFL team would come to visit the NFL team that most resembles a reality show.

That's not how Mike Brown sees it.

"For the fans around the country who know us only by reports," the Cincinnati Bengals' owner said Tuesday, "it's a chance to set the record straight."

Records certainly have something to do with why the HBO show Hard Knocks, produced in collaboration with NFL Films, will spend its fifth season at Georgetown College, beginning Friday, to go behind the scenes at Bengals training camp.

(The show airs at 10 p.m. Wednesdays, beginning Aug. 12.)

There is the team's 4-11-1 record last season. There is also the extended soap-opera record of discord, controversy, off-the-field incidents — starring a certain Ochocinco — that has made Cincinnati a notorious franchise.

Kind of The Surreal Life meets Big Brother.

Who wouldn't want to watch that?

Yet, Brown thinks the misinformed public is in for a surprise.

"I'd like them to see what our people really are like," Brown said at the Bengals' annual pre-camp luncheon at Paul Brown Stadium. "Chris Henry is a good example. If you only knew him by hearsay, you would think he's some kind of ogre. It's not true. He's a good person. When you see him up close, you'll find that you like him."

That's the same Chris Henry who for most of his brief career has shown up more on local arrest sheets than on NFL reception lists. Now, Henry has reportedly shown signs of turning his life, and his career, around.

"The same is true with other people," Brown said. "We have a lot of good guys."

Including the much-maligned owner?

"I'm bald, I'm fat, I'm old, and I'm probably a little addled," Brown said. "If that's what comes across, then that's what comes across."

Coach Marvin Lewis participated in the initial Hard Knocks series in 2001 as the Baltimore Ravens' defensive coordinator. Before this year, Lewis had rejected previous attempts by HBO to have the Bengals participate in the show. Now, Lewis downplays the tube talk.

"We're not doing anything differently," Lewis said. "After a day or two, you forget they are even around."

Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer also has been through it before.

"It wasn't a bad experience," said Zimmer, who was Dallas' defensive coordinator when HBO showed up at training camp in 2002. "I'm just superstitious."

The Cowboys went 5-11 in that 2002 season.

Before Zimmer had seen the show, head coach Dave Campo told his assistant the video had shown Zimmer in a particularly unflattering light. So when the crew came to put a microphone on Zimmer the next day, the coordinator refused. Turned out, Campo had been exaggerating.

"He was busting my rear end," said Zimmer, who did admit that he received some calls from his daughters who saw their father, "use some colorful language."

Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski had never seen the show when the team agreed to participate.

"So I had them go back and get the Kansas City (2007) show for me," Bratkowski said. "I think there's going to be some distraction to it, but it shouldn't hurt us."

Ah, but what about one of Bratkowski's publicity-loving players, the receiver formerly known as Chad Johnson, now known as Chad Ochocinco?

"I suppose there will be some issues," Bratkowski said. "We all know he loves the TV cameras. But I think he'll be fine. He seems to be in a very good frame of mind, more like the first four or five years of his career. I think he realizes it could be something very positive for him."

And, so Mike Brown hopes, positive for the Bengals.

Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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