The Associated Press
GEORGETOWN, Ky. (AP) - The black Mercury Marauder with tinted windows backed up to the sidewalk in front of dorm room No. 113. The driver's door slowly opened, and receiver Chad Ochocinco popped out with a smile, ready to start unloading.
He hadn't even retrieved the flat-screen television from the back seat before he became a target.
A cameraman moved in for a tight shot of Johnson cradling the TV set under his right arm. A technician reached a long, black microphone pole across the top of the car, trying to capture the first thing that the chatty receiver said.
"Y'all are supposed to help me, man," Ochocinco teased, filling his arms with gear. "Put your cameras down."
Not during this Cincinnati Bengals training camp.
Players got an eye-opening preview of what they can expect for the next few weeks as they moved into their dormitory housing Thursday at Georgetown College. The team agreed to be the focus of this year's HBO "Hard Knocks" series, which gets behind-the-scenes footageof what it's like to go through training camp.
Camera crews scurried from one player to another as they checked in and got their room keys. Several players were followed through the parking lot and even into their rooms, something they're not used to at all.
"It's going to be really weird," quarterback Carson Palmer said. "I've only been here for maybe an hour-and-a-half. They're coming in the room with you and sticking the camera in your car window. It's definitely different. But I've talked to a couple of guys who have experienced the 'Hard Knocks' deal and they said after a couple of days, you kind of get past it and don't even realize they're around."
On reporting day, players couldn't help but notice they weren't alone.
Rookie linebacker Rey Maualuga from Southern California walked through the parking lot to his dorm, a film crew of three keeping up with him. He had a black backpack slung over his right shoulder, three plastic bags of food in his left hand, and a self-conscious grin on his face.
The crew followed him through the green door into room No. 114, then back out again.
"It's a different experience," he said.
Coach Marvin Lewis embraced the offer to put his team in the spotlight for the show's fifth season. He thought the exposure would be good for the franchise, which has only one winning season in the last 18 years. He convinced camera-shy owner Mike Brown to sign off on it, too.
Though Lewis played down suggestions that the ever-present cameras could be intrusive, some of his coaches weren't so sure. Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski acknowledged initial misgivings about being the centerpiece for the five-episode program, which will begin airing on Aug. 12. He was afraid the cameras would be a distraction for players and provide insights for opponents.
"I think there will be some distraction to it,but it shouldn't hurt us," Bratkowski said.
Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer was with Dallas in 2002 when the Cowboys were featured on "Hard Knocks." They wound up winning five games that year. When he heard the cameras were coming back, he wasn't thrilled.
"I'm melancholy, I guess," he said. "I understand the benefits and the negative things. I've been through it before. It wasn't a bad experience, but I'm superstitious. We didn't have a good year that year."
Brown sits down for television interviews only once a year, at the team's preseason luncheon. He agreed to participate in the show - he'll wear a microphone at times - to try to change the team's image as bumbling losers. Their stretch of futility is one of the worst in NFL history. A few years ago, they also led the league in players arrested.
"We did it to reach out to fans across the country who know us only by reports," Brown said this week. "Now they'll see us close-up. We think that will give us a chance to set the record straight with them. It's a risk, perhaps, but it has a lot of opportunity for us."
Asked if he'll do anything to look good on camera, Brown smiled.
"Oh, I'm bald, I'm fat, I'm old, I'm probably a little addled," he said. "If that's how it comes across, that's how it comes across."
His highest-paid receiver has no such worries. With the cameras recording, Ochocinco promised to keep a high profile not only in training camp but throughout the season.
"The camera has always been around, so it's nothing different," he said. "If the camera's not following you, you're not doing something right."