INDIANAPOLIS — Imagine being a fly on the wall as Chris Ballard, Chuck Pagano and their staffs are meeting to discuss the tough decisions behind cutting down the team's offseason roster from 90 to 75 players after the Indianapolis Colts' third preseason game.
Or how about getting an up-close-and-personal weekly look at the team's first-round pick as he not only learns how to navigate his first few weeks of real NFL football, but the major adjustments that come off the field, as well?
Then there's the recovery of quarterback Andrew Luck, as he works his way back to 100-percent health after undergoing offseason surgery on his throwing shoulder. Will he be absolutely ready to go by Week 1?
For football fans worldwide, these have been some of the more popular themes each year on the HBO/NFL Films documentary-styled show Hard Knocks, which features an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at an NFL team each training camp as it prepares for the upcoming season.
But for now, the show once again won't be featuring the Colts — at least not in 2017.
That's according to team Owner Jim Irsay, who recently told reporters at the Annual League Meetings in Phoenix that appearing on Hard Knocks is "not going to happen this year."
But Irsay didn't rule out the possibility of being on the show in future seasons.
"Someday I'm sure we'll end up doing it," he said. "This was just not an ideal year for us."
The 2017 season was actually the first time since the show's inception in 2001 that the Colts had actually met the criteria to be featured on Hard Knocks.
They were one of eight teams (the others being the Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Philadelphia Eagles, Baltimore Ravens, New Orleans Saints and Tennessee Titans) league-wide that did not have a new head coach, had not made the playoffs the previous two seasons and had not been previously chosen for Hard Knocks in the past decade.
Teams that do not meet that criteria can also volunteer to be featured on the show, though most franchises prefer to keep their on- and off-the-field position battles, major storylines and team meetings out of the public eye — and away from the inquiring minds of their rivals — as much as possible.
The Colts actually had a prime opportunity to do a little extra scouting on an AFC South Division rival in 2015, when the Houston Texans were featured on Hard Knocks. That year, the Texans became the second team in three seasons to have appeared on the show and then made the playoffs the same season, joining the 2013 Cincinnati Bengals.
In all, nine different teams have appeared on Hard Knocks (or a similar show that aired on NFL Network in 2004) over the course of 12 different seasons, with both the Dallas Cowboys (2002 and 2008) and the Bengals (2009 and 2013) each appearing twice.
The show had a five-year hiatus from 2003-07 (though the Jacksonville Jaguars appeared on a similar show, Inside Training Camp: Jaguars Summer on the NFL Network in 2004), and also did not feature a team during the 2011 training camp due to the league's player lockout that ended just before the start of training camp.
So when will fans know which team has been selected to be featured on Hard Knocks this season? The league and HBO — which recently agreed to extend the series another four years — usually makes that announcement the final week in May.
According to the Tampa Bay Times' Rick Stroud, the Buccaneers have "vowed full cooperation" to be on the show this year, "but have asked the league and network for an answer sometime (this) week."
If the Buccaneers are, indeed, selected for the show, there is not a good likelihood that the Colts would make an appearance this year as a preseason opponent. Indianapolis last played the Bucs in the preseason in 1989, a 30-0 Colts shutout victory at the Hoosier Dome.
In that game, the Colts' defense intercepted Buccaneers quarterback Vinny Testaverde three times — one of which was returned 23 yards for a touchdown by defensive end Donnell Thompson — while running back Eric Dickerson ran for 117 yards on nine first-half carries, including a 78-yard touchdown run.
"We got treated like a rag doll," then-Buccaneers coach Ray Perkins said, according to Indianapolis Star archives.
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