The Arizona Cardinals are currently one of the best teams in the NFL and finished with a double-digit win total for a third straight year. Yet, they still didn’t crack the top 10 most popular teams in last year’s Harris Poll. So the chance to be featured on All or Nothing, a docuseries chronicling the team’s 2015 season, was one Arizona jumped at to develop its brand.
"I think about exposure for the team," Cardinals president Michael Bidwill said. "Our players want it, our coaches want it, our fans want it. It’s about respect."
The show, which is exclusively available to stream on Amazon.com, also represented the latest in the NFL’s push to digital streaming.
All or Nothing stood out in a few ways. Much like HBO’s Hard Knocks, it opened doors to show a behind-the-scenes look at an NFL team. Unlike Hard Knocks, however, it didn’t end at training camp. Instead, the cameras followed the Cardinals for an entire season, from their Week 1 win over the New Orleans Saints to their disappointing loss to the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship.
Even though viewers knew ahead of time how the season ended for the Cardinals, it was the unique perspectives not seen during a regular NFL broadcast that made the show worth watching. The roller coaster ride of their overtime playoff win against the Green Bay Packers was thrilling enough when it happened, but getting a first-hand glimpse at how it played out made it even more dramatic.
Producers for the show have already confirmed on Reddit that a second season will happen, though it hasn’t been announced whether the Cardinals or a new team will be documented for the 2016 season. Either way, another season of All or Nothing will be highly anticipated after the first season was such a success, giving fans a better understanding of not just the team, but of the NFL in general.
Larry Fitzgerald isn’t a robot
When Patrick Peterson joined Katie Nolan of FOX Sports 1’s Garbage Time to promote the show, she asked the cornerback if fans will find out that Larry Fitzgerald is actually a robot. Peterson smiled, turned to the camera and said, "You do."
Fitzgerald has been one of the top receivers in the NFL for more than a decade, missing just six games in his 12 seasons with the Cardinals. He’s the most recognizable name on the team, but has never reveled in the spotlight.
Still, it was surprising how little Fitzgerald was featured on the show, considering he’s the franchise’s best player ever. Other players and coaches welcomed the cameras into their homes, but most of Fitzgerald’s airtime consisted of secondhand accounts and clips from practices and games.
But if anything, All or Nothing revealed that Fitzgerald is more of a real person than we thought. Even while he kept his distance from the cameras, they still found a way to capture a few telling moments — like when Fitzgerald found out he made his ninth Pro Bowl. The receiver has always shrugged off personal accomplishments and kept the focus on his team, but the cameras showed him admitting that it was important to him that he find his way on to one more Pro Bowl roster because Jerry Rice was the only receiver to reach 10.
In one vignette, defensive end Cory Redding recounted a time when Fitzgerald lost his cool. Redding, who baked cookies with his wife after every victory to bring in to the locker room, had a strict "no win, no cookie" policy. But after the Cardinals lost their first game of the season, Fitzgerald channeled his inner Cookie Monster.
"Fitzgerald got mad. Oh my gosh," Redding laughed. "He was like, ‘no man you got to be consistent. You got to bring it in all the time.’"
Fitzgerald was more of a presence in the final episodes of the season, where his clear appreciation for the playoffs, and desire to get back to the Super Bowl, shined through. More than any other player, the veteran wore the emotions that come with both victory and defeat on his sleeve.
After Aaron Rodgers’ Hail Mary pass sent the game to overtime, Fitzgerald almost single-handedly beat the Packers. On the first play in the extra period, Fitzgerald made a 75-yard catch-and-run, setting up his game-winning touchdown. Compared to everyone else in the locker room, his reaction was quiet, and a bit relieved:
Larry! Larry! Larry! #AllorNothing pic.twitter.com/3u6yVKcRPr— NFL (@NFL) July 9, 2016
Even in his finest moment of the season, with teammates chanting his name, Fitzgerald wasn’t comfortable with being the center of attention and deflected the chants back toward the Cardinals’ goal of a Super Bowl.
The following week was an entirely different story when the Cardinals were blown out by the Panthers. Fitzgerald, who was denied another shot at that elusive Super Bowl ring, privately broke down in the locker room.
Fitzgerald was mostly a peripheral character throughout the series, but he was still responsible for some of the most poignant moments.
The Bruce Arians and Tyrann Mathieu connection
Tyrann Mathieu is a budding superstar in the NFL, but his 2015 ended just like 2013 did — with a season-ending knee injury that cost the Cardinals one of the league’s most dynamic and versatile defenders.
It was an emotional time for the team, but it was especially rough for head coach Bruce Arians, who has a special connection with Mathieu.
"We have a little different bond just because of where he came from, where I came from," Arians said. "I’ve just gotten real attached to him."
Early in the season, Arians and Mathieu talked about their ability to relate to each other. Much like Mathieu at LSU, Arians was once kicked out of school and had to battle his way back to football success.
"I remember the first time I sat down with B.A. after he drafted me and he told me that story," Mathieu said. "Now me, as a player, who had just gotten a second chance, I’m able to come into work every day more comfortable, more relaxed because my coach showed me his scars. He showed me what he had been through in life. I think that’s why we relate to each other."
When Mathieu hit the 2013 NFL Draft, he was a risky player with off-field issues, but Arians was the one willing to take a chance on him. It was clear on the show that Mathieu’s turnaround story is one the coach is very proud of and Arians was personally hurt by the injury that cost the defensive back his shot to play in the postseason.
It ended up hurting the Cardinals plenty too. Mathieu isn’t just a tremendous playmaker but an emerging leader in the Arizona secondary.
"We've got to be one." - @Mathieu_Era— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) July 8, 2016
More on this speech in @AllorNothingTV ep. 3 review"https://t.co/B5WAFXutIuhttps://t.co/udSGGqLAUO
The inspirational speeches from Mathieu continued even after his ACL tear, but nothing could replace the Pro Bowler’s presence on the field.
NFL camaraderie trumps rivalries
With the exception of games against the St. Louis Rams — who were still harboring a grudge against Arians for calling them "a team that is always 8-8" the year before — the show shined a light on the respect that NFL players have for one another.
In an early NFC West matchup, Michael Bennett proved that even rivals can come together. The Seahawks defensive end and several of his teammates gathered around to give Cardinals lineman Mike Iupati well wishes before he was taken off the field in an ambulance after what proved to be a not-so-serious injury.
"This the sucky part about football," Bennett told Arians on the field before the game eventually resumed.
Arians was an assistant for five different franchises before he became a head coach with the Cardinals, so he has many friends throughout the league. Before a game with the Pittsburgh Steelers, he shared a light-hearted conversation with Ben Roethlisberger, one of many players Arians helped to navigate the early years of their careers as a former offensive coordinator.
Few players stay on one team throughout their professional career, and the Cardinals’ roster was filled with aging veterans who were brought in to help the team try to reach the Super Bowl. Dwight Freeney, Red Bryant and Chris Johnson have made their fair share of stops in recent years, so it wasn’t uncommon for them to see former teammates on the opposing sideline.
But even players who can sometimes be polarizing, like Rodgers and Cam Newton, drew nothing but respect from the team. Postgame interactions with opponents were friendly, offering no hint that the two sides were just in a battle on the field.
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A second season of All or Nothing could be even better now that the producers understand the kind of access available to them and what fans respond to most.
If the show follows the Cardinals again, it risks being a little stale if the same main characters are the focus again. If another team is chosen, fans would be treated to fresher storylines.
New players and coaches with different dynamics to compare to a high-level team like the Cardinals would be interesting. The first season laid a groundwork that needs only tinkering, though, and promises to continue to be one of the best projects NFL Films has ever taken on.