AMAZON’S All or Nothing NFL documentary returned for season five, to follow the 2019 Philadelphia Eagles season. We are taken through the ups and downs of a team one season removed from winning their first Superbowl as they bid to regain the Lombardi Trophy.
Despite being 18 months on, the opening scenes focus on the championship season victory parade, which feels almost like a caveat to anything that might follow, that this team was recently the best in the world. The intended narratives are set out early, through the narration of Jon Hamm and the introductions of tight end Zach Ertz and quarterback Carson Wentz. Ertz talks about the team cementing a legacy, and Wentz is out to prove he is the unquestioned leader of the team with Nick Foles, the backup who had such success when Wentz was injured, now gone via free-agency.
These two early messages feel very much like they could have been scripted direct from the Eagles’ front office. For all its behind-the-scenes access, it is hard to escape the feeling throughout that this is the way the Philadelphia Eagles saw their season – as if you are being shown holiday photos by friends as they describe their personal narrative of the trip.
As usual with this format, the most striking element is the human side of these millionaire celebrities. Brandon Graham and his daughter Emerson’s charisma make them stars of the show. Brandon Brooks discusses his struggles with anxiety disorder. Teammates and housemates Dallas Goedert and Avonte Maddox have an endearing friendship. Rookie Miles Sanders takes to the pro ranks with fewer nerves than his mother in the stands. Most poignant of all is 40-year-old quarterback Josh McCown’s tears, alone in the tunnel after the playoff loss, having stepped in unexpectedly after another injury to Wentz.
As injuries and inconsistent play contribute to a season that threatens to derail, the narrative quickly becomes one of conquering adversity, which pays off with the late emergence of reserve players like Boston Scott and Greg Ward. It is a neat way of delivering the story as it allows positives to be drawn from negatives.
Indeed, while difficult elements to the season are covered, there is nothing there that the ownership would not want you to see. In fact, potential negatives are transformed by the deliberate inclusion of points that ownership would want you to see. Receiver Nelson Agholor takes the high road in response to criticism of his pass drops from a fan on the news, by offering him tickets to a game. In the episode “Beat Dallas” which focuses on safety Malcolm Jenkins, his locker-room leadership is trashed by the recently released Orlando Scandrick in a TV interview. The Eagles respond by releasing footage of Scandrick caught on microphone saying the exact opposite to Jenkins on the side-line during a previous game.
The primary criticisms of the team and players comes in the form of regular visits to bombastic radio phone-in hosts and their calls with frustrated fans. Bearing in mind Philadelphia sports fans’ reputation for being harsh critics, this is a more palatable way for shortcomings to be articulated. The ‘passion’ of the fan-base is the blessing and the curse which the team lives with, while those on the outside are juxtaposed with internal team discussions to show what fans cannot possibly understand.
In the perfect visual metaphor of team-friendly spin, this message is articulated directly by none other than the owner, Jeffrie Lurie, at the beginning of episode two, “The Noise”. Lurie delivering the speech the episode is named after in a team meeting is interspersed with game footage of errors in a loss to the Detroit Lions, and audio of angry radio hosts’ reactions. Lurie comes across well here, as ownership often does in recent Amazon documentaries, almost like a family friendly Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday.
Much of the presentation across the series has a similar feel to a sanitised version of the Hollywood movie. There is not a huge amount on show that would have been a surprise to Eagles fans, but the digestible narrative and the cinematic presentation would certainly aid the immersion for prospective new fans. In this way the series feels like a character-heavy promotional campaign.
Perhaps the only real revelation contrary to team narrative happens almost by accident. Head Coach Doug Pederson comes across averagely, in that his style of speaking seems overly generic and in team meetings compares unfavourably to Lurie and players like DeSean Jackson. But even here there is nothing explicitly negative, rather a general feeling.
All or Nothing is not hard-hitting journalism. Essentially it is well-produced and watchable team media. Despite this, it is possible to get a sense of players as people and not just as Philadelphia Eagles.