They're calling it "Hard Knocks III," at least for now, but by the time the TV documentary premiers on Aug. 11 it will have a team-specific title that will go a long way toward carving a place in history for the Jaguars franchise. After all, NFL Films is, as George Halas once described, "the keeper of the flame."
They are words Phil Tuckett speaks with pride and reverence. Tuckett is one of NFL Films' legendary camermen. These days, he is also one of NFL Films' execs and Tuckett will serve as the director and producer of this summer's TV documentary about Jaguars training camp.
As Tuckett tells the story, Halas, the NFL patriarch, visited NFL Films' headquarters in Philadelphia shortly before his death. Halas was shown the company's immense film vault, which includes NFL Films-shot footage from every game played in the NFL since 1964, and every frame of film available from prior to '64.
"He got tears in his eyes and said, 'You guys are the keeper of the flame. Don't go away because without you the history of the game will be gone,'" Tuckett said.
This summer's project will be Tuckett's baby. He'll lead a contingent of 30 NFL Films production people to Jacksonville for six weeks of filming. They'll arrive four days before the start of training camp, to capture "how different players prepare themselves for the start of camp."
Tuckett's crew will be with the Jaguars every step of the way through training camp and the four-game preseason schedule. In fact, they began shooting footage at this week's final-two spring practices. "The material we're shooting now is for the opening and graphics package," Tuckett said.
"Hard Knocks" I and II were aired on HBO. This summer's Jaguars documentary will be shown on NFL Network, which means a new title is necessary, but the approach will be largely the same.
"The intent of a project like this is to give fans the feeling they've gone through a whole training camp with the team; go every place the players go," Tuckett said. "It almost competes with a survivor-type series."
So why were the Jaguars selected as the subject?
"We felt, let's do a team on the rise. Let's do a team we feel has a chance to surprise people," Tuckett said.
When Tuckett and NFL Films did "Hard Knocks" in the summer of 2001, starring the Super Bowl-champion Baltimore Ravens, Jack Del Rio was a Ravens assistant coach and one of the stars of the show. Tuckett said Del Rio is another reason the Jaguars were selected.
"He was a great character in that (Ravens documentary). He's just really honest. He's not afraid to be himself; how he coaches and what his style is. At the end of the day there's going to be a real-life portrait of what he's doing with this team," Tuckett said.
Del Rio is comfortable with NFL Films and their work. He trusts the documentary will be tasteful and has promised to grant the access necessary for it to be entertaining. Simply put, from the end of July until the start of the regular season, NFL Films will be a lot closer to the players than their wives will be.
"NFL Films does a great job … of capturing football. I think it'll be a great opportunity for our fans to get an up-close look at how the Jaguars do business," Del Rio said told reporters following Wednesday's practice.
Tuckett is officially NFL Films vice-president of special projects. This summer's shoot will be a most special project and though it has been compared by everyone to the two previous "Hard Knocks" documentaries, Tuckett believes the Jaguars series will compare more favorably to something NFL Films did in the mid-1990's: "Football America."
"It's who these guys are as people; not so much coachspeak," Tuckett said in describing what he wants this summer's production to achieve.
Tuckett is also especially fond of another NFL Films special project, the NFL's 75th anniversary season (1994) video. In one scene, former Jaguars linebacker Lonnie Marts, who was then a member of the Tampa Bay Bucs, is caught in a touching moment with the then-oldest living former NFL player, Arda Bowser, who played with the Canton Bulldogs and against Jim Thorpe. Bowser, who died a year after the shoot, was 98 when Tuckett came up with the idea of bringing the oldest-living NFL alumni to an NFL game.
Bowser lived in Orlando and would agree to make the trip to Tampa, but he was concerned about his heart. He told Tuckett he didn't want to get too far away from a hospital where he might be revived, so Tuckett had Bowser transported to Tampa and returned home in an ambulance.
What the arrangement allowed was a heart-warming scene in which Marts introduced himself to Bowser and thanked him for what he gave to the game. The shot of Bowser wearing his original Canton Bulldogs jacket, standing at midfield as jets roared overhead, is symbolic of the drama Tuckett and NFL Films is capable.
They will attempt to achieve that drama with the Jaguars in five shows: Aug. 11, 18 and 25, and Sept. 1 and 8. The Jaguars are working to arrange local airing of the shows.