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June 21, 2024 18 mins
Keith Crossrow of NFL Films on “Hard Knocks” and the Bengals
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Episode Transcript

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What's up. Good afternoon, I'mallay. This is esp AT fifteen thirty.
Appreciate you listening. We are broadcastingfrom the Holy Grail downtown Cincinnati.
It is hot, but it isgorgeous outside. Reds and Red Sox coming
up. Reds playing a Red Soxteam that comes in red hot. DJ
Friedel is back in the starting lineup. Jamer Candelario also back in the starting

lineup. Austin win is up fromLouisville. Reds now have three catchers.
What that maybe should mean is thatTyler Stevenson can can like d H Moore.
I guess it was inexcusable to nothim have him, to not have
him in the starting lineup on Wednesday. By the way. One other note,
Matt Miyoska is gonna have surgery onhis knee. This has been something

that we have talked about all weeklong. Obviously a no go for tomorrow
as c Cincinnati's tilt against New England. No real timeline on his return.
Kevin Egan from MLS Season Pass onApple TV joins US at five twenty.
Early today, our buddy Austin Elmorechatted with Charlie Goldsmith of the inquirer.
He did. Charlie did a Qand A with Red's president Nick Krawl.

You can go find that at Cincinnatidot Com. I think one of the
answers that Nick gave Charlie is maybeinteresting is not the right word. It's
an answer that I like. Howabout that. We'll spend a few minutes
on that and perhaps discuss a Bengalsrival. Speaking of Bengals rivals, all

four AFC North teams will be featuredon Hard Knocks this winter. Not the
typical Hard Knocks that you get duringtraining camp. Hard Knocks a season in
the AFC North premieres on Tuesday,December third. What they're going to do
is embed themselves with all four teamsin the AFC North, document their seasons,

document their head to head matchups,and spend time with these teams clear
through the postseason. This is goingto be awesome. I am an NFL
Films nerd. I love Hard Knocks, so it's awesome to have with us.
Keith Cossrow, who's the vice presidentand head of content for NFL Films.
I cannot wait for this. Keith, I'm so excited. You get

a lot of credit because you've donethe impossible. You have gotten Bengals,
Brown's, Steelers, and Ravens fansto agree on something, and that's that.
This is going to be a lotof fun starting December third. Well,
now, as a gun of theAFC North or what was back then
the AFC Central, I grew upin a fan of one of these four

teams that shall remain nameless for thepurposes of this call. But anyone who
loves and has grown up with thisdivision and any one of these four teams
knows that it is one of thegreat divisions, not only in the NFL,

but in all of sports. Theopportunity to take an approach to Hard
Knocks in season that is different thananything we've ever done, different than anyone's
ever done, and attack a wholedivision and all four teams in it.
You had to start there. Youhad to start in the AFC North.

You have to start and what reallyis the cradle of pro football Ohio,
Western Pennsylvania and Baltimore. It's agreat division. You know. Hard Knocks
has been on the air now forover two decades, and obviously here in
Cincinnati there are a lot of peoplewho became familiar with it when NFL Films
was embedded with the Bengals in twothousand and nine and then again in twenty
thirteen. Give us an idea ofwhat your access is like in season as

opposed to when you're covering a teamduring training camp or like with the Giants
this year during the offseason. Firstof all, I would I'm going to
make a quick shameless plug for theGiants show, which premieres until second and
people, if you're not sure whatthat is, that we have been embedded
with the Giants since January and we'rewith their GM, Joe Shane and the

entire Giants front office through the wholeoff season and it was The things we
captured in the story we're going totell are unlike anything we've ever seen,
and it's really interesting and for anyfootball nerd, I must watch. But
for anyone who's just interested in workplacedynamics and offices and how it organization functions

at a high level, that showsit's just really really cool as far as
in season versus that and the trainingcamp. The classic version of Hard Knocks,
the in season version, which we'vebeen doing for three years and which
we did. The precursor to thatwas five years of All or Nothing on
Amazon. We try to keep thefootprint really small. You know, if

you remember, if you were aroundCincinnati and O nine or thirteen, the
footprint for the training camp shows alittle bigger and pretty noticeable. We want
to be completely invisible in December whenteams are fighting for playoff spots and so
much is online, and careers andlivelihoods of every coach and player in the

roster really are at stake, andeverything for an organization is on the line.
So we keep the crew small.We lean heavily on the unmanned,
robotic cameras and meeting rooms that anyonewho's ever watched Hard Knocks is familiar with.
We lean heavily on micing up playersand coaches and practices and games,

and we do everything we can justto capture what they're already doing. And
that to us is the key.You know, in the summer in August,
you got a little bit more time. It's a little bit of a
looser time, certainly for veterans,you know, Joe Burrow and Jamar Chase.
In August, their main objective isjust to not get injured. They
just want to get to September.Healthy, right, and in December,

it's a very different experience for them. So what we want to make sure
first, first and foremost, andyou know, I'm sure any fan wants
to hear this is we just don'twant to disrupt anyone's routine. We don't
want to disrupt the team's objectives,which are to win every Sunday, Monday

or Thursday, and to win theAFC North and to get home playoff games
and to get to and win theSuper Bowl. We just want to be
there to document it. And we'vedeveloped so many techniques, innovative techniques over
the years at NFL Films, that'sthe whole history of NFL Films, so
that we can stay out of theway and still capture this material, these

sights and sounds that our fans craveand that make these shows so special.
You document training camp, and Ithink we always talk about it on our
show, the Hard Knocks effect.No matter which team you're watching, by
the end of camp, you feellike, God, these guys are going
to be pretty good. Some ofthe in season stuff. You know,
you famously had the RAMS and hadJeff Fisher telling his staff and his players

he had been fired. You didthe Arizona Cardinals in season and toward the
end it felt like Cliff Kingsbury knewhe was going to lose his job.
What is it like when you're coveringa team in season and the season has,
for lack of a better term,gone awry. That is one of
the main reasons we've gone this route. We knew after the Kingsbury season and

the Cardinals season where their season wentsideways. This was in twenty twenty two
and everybody was injured, including KylerMurray, and yeah, Cliff Kingsbury,
who was terrific to our crew andhelped us make a great show, lost
this job. We just knew that'snot something we're really interested in documenting.

Again, nobody wants to see itdeath march like that to the end of
the season. So we just feltthat there's a different model to do an
in season version of Hard Knocks,and that's the division model, where by
doing four teams at once, it'sgoing to be a lot harder. We
got to figure it out and that'llbe a process, but it lessens the

burden on each of those clubs.We don't have to shoot quite as much
with anyone. If somebody's season doesgo sideways, we can back off a
little bit. You know, wegot three other teams. At least one
of them is going to win thedivision, and that's important. We want
to we want to show victory,not just somebody's season ending badly, but

somebody's going to win the NFC North, the ourst division to win in football.
I mean what I'm looking forward to, and obviously we hope it's here
in Cincinnati. But you're gonna beembedded with a team as it's preparing for
playoff games, and you're going tobe embedded with teams as they play get
set to play teams that you're alsoembedded with, and I think that adds
an interesting dynamic. I'm curious aboutthis Hard Knocks. The franchise has a

history with with the Bengals, andobviously the Browns have been featured somewhat recently.
You go back to the first yearyou have the Baltimore Ravens. This
will be the first time the PittsburghSteelers are involved. Does that add a
dynamic? Do you have to didyou have to compel them to say yes
to this? How did that playout? Well? This change was voted

on at the league meetings in March. You know, anything we do with
Hard Knocks, that's a change.There's a you know, everybody's familiar,
familiar with the Hard Knock rules,the Hard Knocks rules of who's eligible to
be on the show, and it'sa fun parlor game for chance to play.
We wanted to tweak that this yearand expand the pool of teams that
are eligible for the summer show,and simultaneously to open the door to doing

this different approach to the end seasonshow. We spoke to all of the
many of the teams around the NFLand got a lot of feedback. We
worked with the league office, theexecutives in New York, and it was
put to a vote and then theowners voted over overwhelmingly that this is an

approach they could get behind. Soall four of the AFC North teams voted
in favor of it, and atthat point we felt really good that this
is probably where we're going to start. I mean, it certainly was going
to be our preference. And nowthere was no pushback from the Steelers.
There were no pushback from the Ravens, the Bengals, or the Browns.

I know there were you know thecommissioners spoke to the owners, and our
president, Ross Knover speaks frequently withexecutives all four of the clubs, as
do I with several of them,and we have great relationships. And I
think everybody goes into this with eyesopen. We don't want to disrupt anybody's

season, and we're going to figureout how to work together to tell a
great story. Just how cool isit? I mean to tell stories about
Bengals and Browns games and Steelers Ravensgames and every one of these. Every
game in this division is a rivalrygame. Yeah, there are no bad
games in the schedule. Week sixteenand a week eighteen, all four teams

play each other. Yeah, wehave the Steelers and Ravens playing both playing
on Christmas Day on net plot.There's just so many different things we're going
to be able to feature and highlightand focus on. It's going to be
awesome. Do you anticipate I wouldimagine the idea is for this to be
an every year sort of thing.Maybe not with the AFC North, but
is the idea here You're going todo this with a particular division every single

year. Moving forward, You're startingwith the best and I think most competitive
division. But is like, canwe see the AFC West next year or
the NFCS. How's that going towork? Yeah, it's definitely the idea.
I mean, we got to seehow it works. This is this
is the year to find out.It's everything we think is going to go

those the way we you know,it goes the way we think it's going
to go. If it succeeds,if it proves to be a practical answer,
and the feedback from these four teamsis yeah, you know what,
that worked, We can handle that. Then it becomes a really equitable and
fair, you know, equitable solutionwhere we can go to all thirty two

teams and say, you know,you're going to do this once in eight
years, and everybody's going to doit, and so we don't have to
talk anymore about we're never doing thisor this isn't fair. No, it's
fair. Everybody will do it once, and it's a great way for our
fans to get to know the playersand coaches and what what they put in

this a little bit more. There'snothing like when you watch hard knocks and
you gain a new appreciation for howhard a particular player or coaches working,
how much they care about the job, how much it means to them,
how much support they have from theirfamilies. Once you witness that in a

show like this, it changes yourconnection to the team. We saw it
last year with the Dolphins and MikeMcDaniel and Tua and that team, which
had a terrific season where they kindof got banged up at the end,
but that was our first taste ofhard knocks in the playoffs, and I
think it meant a lot to Dolphinsfans to experience that run in this way.

And it's really intense to experience itthis way, but I think it's
a lot of fun. It deepensthe emotional bond you feel with your team
and its players, and I thinkthat's a good thing for our game,
for our league, for players andcoaches, and for our fans. Yeah,
I mean to that end, I'vealways felt like in the two thousand

and nine Bengals had a good year. They won ten games. It was
a year filled with tragedies with ChrisHenry passing and Mike Zimmer, the defensive
coordinator, lost his wife. ButI've always felt like Bengals fans to this
day, fifteen years later developed aspecial bond with that team because of the
stories that were told during training campon Hard Knocks, and yet Chad Johnson

was featured prominently, but also wegot to know Tom Nelson, right,
this undrafted safety who made the club. And so I'm always somewhat envious of
the fan base that gets Hard Knocksbecause I feel like, especially if the
team ends up being pretty good,boy, you are going to develop an
attachment that maybe you don't get anywhereelse. That I mean. Of course,

that Bengals season in two thousand andnine was incredibly special for all of
us here. We had rebooted theshow a couple of years earlier with the
Kansas City season with Herm Edwards andmade it much more cinematic, and that's
when the the you know now iconicHard Knocks theme was was first brought into

the into the show. People don'trealize that that Hard Knocks theme wasn't there
when they're with The Ravens show.We didn't. We didn't introduce it until
two thousand and seven when our composerDavid Roboto wrote it. So that two
thousand and nine season was the firsttime it won the Emmy for Best series.

The Chad part of it was incredible, Reggie Telly's story, everything you
mentioned. It was such a specialshow and we know the connection it made,
and we just saw the same thingrecently with the Detroit season. I
just heard yesterday that still two yearslater, the number one selling jersey for

the Lions was an undrafted linebacker featuredin the Lions Show two years ago.
And you think about how that thatDan Campbell Lions team was just starting to
turn the corner when Hard Knocks aired, and I think it really helped catapult
them in their own city. Itreally helped to find their character and and

build the love affair that they're havingwith that city, and I think it
helped catapult them into the national consciousness. When Hard Knocks works and it's clicking
on all cylinders, and the teamis into it and the coach is on
board, it can be a reallygreat experience for everybody involved. And I
think that's happened on a number ofoccasions, and hopefully it happens this year

with the entire AFC North, becauseagain, it's just a different side of
the game than than we've been ableto present in any of these shows ever.
To say Hey, here's the bestdivision, the most competitive division,
the toughest division in football. Let'ssee how they go about it at the
at the when it matters most itis. It's gonna be a blast.

Premieeres December the third. I cannotwait. I have been an NFL Films
nerd since I got my NFL CrunchCourse VHS tape with my subscription to Sports
Illustrated when I was eight years oldin nineteen eighty five, and have been
a huge fan ever since. Icannot thank you enough for giving us some
time. I hope we can doit as Hard Knocks unfolds later on this
winter. Thank you so much,Keith, anytime, though, make sure

you stop by next time you're aroundMount Laurel, New Jerseys. I know
that area well and I may takeyou up on that. Thank you so
much. All right, awesome stuff. Keith Cossro is the vice president and
head of content for NFL films.Hard Knocks, a season with the AFC
North will be a big part ofthis twenty twenty four Bengals and NFL season

at premiers on Tuesday, December thethird, on HBO and Max. I
cannot wait. I cannot wait.To take a break because I am late.
Twenty three minutes after four o'clock.Broadcasting today from the Holy Grail downtown
on ESPN fifteen thirty, Cincinnati Sportsstation

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