The Truth Behind the Cowboys’ 2021 “Hard Knocks” Appearance

    It's been almost 24 hours since we found out the would be appearing on HBO's “” series in 2021. Since then there have been a lot of misconceptions and even some misinformation floating around. Let's clean up this mess.

    The biggest lie being told or suggested right now is that a desperate either outbid or outmuscled the rest of the NFL to get his team on the show. That's simply not how “Hard Knocks” works.

    HBO generally selects the team that will appear. The pool of teams they can pick from each season is often limited based on the following exemptions:

    • Teams with first-year head coaches
    • Teams who made the the last two seasons
    • Teams that have already been on the show the last 10 years

    The Cowboys were one of just five teams who didn't meet any of the exemption criteria in 2021. The others were the , , , and .

    While there is an option for teams to volunteer to appear on the show, the Cowboys apparently haven't done so as their last appearance was in 2008. The 10-year rule alone would've made them exempt until 2018, and then the rule about recent playoff appearances (2016, 2018) would've applied up until now.

    2021 was literally the first time that Dallas has been available for mandatory selection to appear on the 13 years. The fact that it happened is a pretty clear sign that it was HBO's call and not Jerry's.

    And yet, you still see nonsense like this:

    Despite their lack of championship success since the mid-90s the Cowboys remain the most valuable franchise in professional sports and the NFL's most-reliable ratings draw. The idea that they need “Hard Knocks” to help the brand is absurd.

    In fact, It's actually HBO who needs .

    “Hard Knocks” suffered a 63% drop in viewership in 2020 from the previous season. While that may have had a lot to do with the distractions of the pandemic and the presidential election, the decision to cover both Los Angeles franchises at the same time didn't seem to resonate with the audience.

    With a lot of the season focused on pandemic challenges and the construction of SoFi Stadium, fans hungry for football content weren't satisfied.

    So no, this isn't Jerry Jones trying to pull a spotlight back on his team. He's already got it and always does, and especially in 2021 after 's and new contract was the biggest story of the NFL .

    Also, real quick, let's dispel this notion that being on “Hard Knocks” will somehow affect the Cowboys' upcoming season. This is professional football; these guys are used to having cameras and microphones in their faces. And this is Dallas; these players are already used to it.

    As my Inside colleague wisely sad it yesterday…

    If you have angst about the Dallas Cowboys appearing on “Hard Knocks” in 2021 or any other year, please don't. This is an additional window into your favorite team; an opportunity to see these men as more than just and jerseys.

    Like John said, this won't be difference between wins and losses or playoff appearances. Dallas hasn't needed HBO to struggle in those areas since 2008.

    But make no mistake, the Cowboys are on “Hard Knocks” this year because they are still America's Team. Any honest person (sorry Florio) doesn't need a reminder.

    Jess Haynie
    Jess Haynie
    Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!


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    Jeff Tuggle

    As Jimmy Johnson would say,, “just another distractiion”Jerry could turn it down. But he never turns down a camera.


    Whether it was an option to do the show or not it is still an unneeded distraction for a team that is very young and needs to be as focused as possible on the task at hand not HBO’s cameras.

    Os Davis

    re: “Hard Knocks” suffered a 63% drop in viewership in 2020.

    i’d guess that a) the Rams’ fanbase is relatively small and the Chargers’ nonexistent


    b) maybe people are finally realizing that Hard Knocks has been really quite uninteresting and increasingly irrelevant for a long time…

    dave raines

    actually having cameras around could actually help the younger guys get used to it

    Gary b

    So Jess are you saying that teams don’t have the option to turn down an appearance? Not that Jerry would ever do that.. I don’t think anyone is demonizing the NFL or even Jerry for this selection necessarily, but both parties are certainly aware of the PR value….similar to the season opening Cowboys vs Bucs match up. It may not be the big distraction many are suggesting it will be. But beyond the exposure, can’t see where it is a positive.


    Who cares?
    At the end of the day it’s about Super Bowl wins.
    Nothing else matters.

    Joaquin Elizalde

    I’ve been Cowboys fan for 40 years, die hard always, and havent see not one of those Hard Knocks at all.. that is a distraction in the middle of a learning process, dont need that.


    Lets be real, you know Jerry behind the scenes made a low key deal with HBO to get on this year, he wants publicity, he wants to be talked about, IMO Cardinals should’ve been the team for Hard Knocks, they all in this year, but America’s team is more marketable and better for ratings than Cardinals

    Dave Fooshee

    Let’s just hope this season doesn’t turn into “Hard Nots”!