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Wednesday - 8/1/2001

Hard Knocks
CLICK HERE for a sneak peek

By Jeff Seidel NFL Insider

(Aug. 1, 2001) WESTMINSTER, MD�For Brian Billick, coaching is all about teaching. And he�s about to give his Baltimore Ravens a unique lesson in handling the pressure of being a champion�with a little help from NFL Films and HBO Sports.

Shortly after Baltimore won Super Bowl XXXV last January, NFL Films president Steve Sabol approached the Ravens� coach with a novel idea. Sabol asked for unprecedented access to Baltimore�s 2001 training camp to produce a six-week documentary for HBO.

The Ravens agreed to the project on one condition: that they have the authority to omit anything they feel could help an opponent. But Billick is not concerned.

He already had talked with championship coaches such as Mike Shanahan and Mike Holmgren, read numerous books, and even quizzed New York Yankees manager Joe Torre about how to school his players on the pressure of being a champion�the main reason Billick favored this project.

�The first instinct was, what a great learning tool for this team to deal with,� Billick says. �I was looking for something approaching the league meetings about how can I train these guys in training camp? What can I do to get them to be aware of and feel comfortable with the fact that they�re world champions? This kind of presence [could] just get worse and worse and worse. I don�t want to find out in October or November that it�s overwhelming for my guys or an individual. This is the place to find out.�

Says team owner Art Modell: �It�s different, and access is the name of the game. This is an open, accessible team and organization, which has been, frankly, my trademark for years. I like access.�

This, though, is a different kind of access. The team agreed to give film crews complete access to meetings, locker rooms, and places that traditionally have been off-limits to the media.

A 16-person NFL Films crew is staying at the team�s Western Maryland College training camp and is expected to shoot more than 700 hours of video. Camera and sound crews have access to players� and coaches� meetings, training rooms, dormitories, and practice fields. Super Bowl most valuable player Ray Lewis, Shannon Sharpe, Tony Siragusa, Qadry Ismail, and Rod Woodson are among the veteran players who will be featured along with rookies such as first-round draft choice Todd Heap and seventh-round pick Dwayne Missouri.

Lewis, the NFL�s defensive MVP, will receive plenty of air time. Having developed into arguably the NFL�s best linebacker in just five years, he received more attention for his off-the-field problems in early 2000. The negative publicity was overwhelming, but the series will give him an opportunity to show fans another side.

�I want people to understand that Ray Lewis is a good man, a good son, and a good citizen,� Modell says. �He was caught in a mess, and he was at the wrong place at the wrong time. He had nothing to do with it. But he�s been victimized and stigmatized by it, particularly by out-of-town media. I don�t think that�s right. But I believed him then as I do now.�

When asked how he felt about being a new television star, Lewis just laughed and said he�s used to ever-present cameras and long boom mikes.

�They�re here, and it�s not like their cameras are different from any others,� Lewis says. �I think it�s great exposure for a lot of the guys, but at the same time I don�t think it�s a distraction at all. The guys are taking it very well.�

Sharpe knows a thing or two about winning Super Bowls. He�s been on three championship teams and says he won�t do anything differently.

�You�ve just got to be yourself,� he says. �I�m not going to change my routine. If they like it, they like it. If they don�t, they don�t. We�re not trying to get ratings here. What we�re trying to do is defend our crown. If in the process, that�s good enough to get them some ratings, so be it, But if not, oh, well.�

In other words, the players are learning how to deal with the pressure�just as Billick planned.

�I can�t imagine much that would be thrown at us in terms of distractions via [the media]that we would not have already experienced,�� Billick says. �The truth is it�s providing a learning experience, and that�s what it is for my players.�

(Editor�s Note: It�s being billed as the first sports-based reality series. The Baltimore Ravens have issued HBO Sports and NFL Films an all-access pass to show fans what an NFL training camp is really like. NFL Insider talks to the players and coaches in a series of features that will parallel the six-episode TV series. Hard Knocks: Training Camp With The Baltimore Ravens airs each Wednesday night at 11 PM ET/PT from August 1 through September 5 on HBO.)

For more info on Hard Knocks click here