Hard Knocks is the best reality show on TV. There are a few tertiary reasons why: football teams seem to produce great characters (Chad Johnson, Rex Ryan, walking ball of anger James Harrison). Very large men hit each other. And there's an inherent drama that comes with cutting players and building a team. But what, really, separates Hard Knocks from the competitors is that it never really feels manufactured. The storylines aren't picked by HBO. The cameras go everywhere, but they never seem intrusive. The players—especially the eminently likeable Bengals in this most recent season—act naturally. Guys like Giovani Bernard come off as funny, everyday guys. (Or, in the case of Margus Hunt, hilarious guys.)
This is just how it feels, though. It might not be the case.
So to find out what every Hard Knocks fan has always wanted to know, I talked to one of the stars of this season, Bengals running back Giovani, to find out what his interactions were like with cameramen, whether he saw Harrison terrify anyone from HBO, and what, exactly, happened to that Honda Odyssey. Plus more.
Congrats on being nominated for Pepsi Next Rookie of the Week!
That was quite the game you had there on Sunday.
Yeah, that was one of the more, much more crazy games I've ever been in involved.
That was actually my next question. Was that the craziest, momentum-changing game you've ever played, even going back to college?
Easily. Because if we had four turnovers in college, we're going to lose big [laughs]. Just the fact that we were able to hold Aaron Rodgers that whole time. That D stepped up big time.
What was going through your mind during that now-famous touchdown run?
Get across the goal line, score, get six points [laughs]. The biggest thing for all players, whenever you have an opportunity to make a play, is to make it, no matter how bad it hurts or how bad you have to do something. You're gotta get across the goalline.
After the game, Coach Lewis said that now is the time people are going to talk about the Bengals. You think you're going to see that in the coming weeks?
I think that kind of started before the season. People kind of doubted as soon as we lost to the Bears, but that was a game where we had a lot of turnovers. The thing about us is that we know we have a lot of playmakers across the board offensively. It's just a matter of being smart with the ball, limiting turnovers, and playing hard-nosed football.
So I wanted to talk to you about Hard Knocks. I know you said in an article during training camp that you hadn't watched it. Have you seen the show now?
No. I don't have time.
You have a pretty busy life.
Did you notice the cameras during training camp?
Obviously you notice 'em a little bit during the first couple of days, but it kind of becomes like they're not really there. They did a really good job of not getting in your way and letting you do your own thing and I give respect to them: They really let the fans see what really happens at training camp. How grueling it really is.
Did you have any interactions with the guys holding the cameras that you wouldn't really see on screen?
Oh yeah. The camera guys were real cool. Because they're around so much and filming us, you have to almost build a relationship with them so they don't put the bad stuff on TV. It's a "if we do good for them, they'll do good for you" type of thing.
Is there any aspect of training camp that you feel the show can't really show for people who haven't played in the NFL?
When you get hit, it hurts. It's tough. It's not like people are paddy-caking out there. And just due to that, day in and day out, being a rookie and having to learn the playbook, that's the biggest adjustment. So for me, being a rookie and trying to figure out what we have to do to help the team win.
Did you see James Harrison terrify anyone from HBO?
Not really. Offense and defense split up and he has his own thing going, too. So I try to stay out of his way.
I remember the Honda Odyssey was a pretty big deal. You still driving the minivan?
Nope. My girlfriend's mom stole it back from me.
She stole it from you?
Yeah! She took the keys away, so I had to purchase a new car.
What'd you get?
We've gotta keep that one confidential.