From a competition aesthetic standpoint there is no logical reason for Thursday night NFL games to exist.
No other sport purposely chooses to so drastically alter its’ own calendar rhythm in order to chase the mighty buck. Most of the time, NFL teams play on Sunday. The game ends and they’ve got Monday through the next Sunday morning to heal, practice, meet, study film of what went wrong in the last game, look at film to determine what might happen in the next game, and apply gallons of Atomic Balm to everything that hurts.
Even if you play on a Monday night you still have most of a week to get yourself prepared for the next game.
But if you draw the Thursday night game, forget it. You’ve got three days (instead of six) to get everything accomplished. If you’re the road team, at least half of that third day will be spent traveling to the game.
Seahawks star Richard Sherman has been extremely outspoken about Thursday games and last season summed up the league’s midweek games in one eloquent word when he called Thursday night football a “poopfest”. That makes the fact that he suffered a season ending Achilles injury versus the Cardinals last Thursday night a particularly cruel coincidence.
This might be a good time to point out that there’s no way to prove that Sherman suffered his injury because he didn’t have enough time to recover from the previous Sunday’s game with Washington. He said his foot had been bothering him for much of the season and it seems reasonable to think that he could have injured it just as easily in practice, or against Atlanta next Monday night (after 11 days off) or…whenever. The NFL says that fewer players suffer injuries during Thursday night games than do on Sunday or Monday games.
But it’s also a good time to point out that there’s not much if any evidence that NFL players like playing two games in four days. Go ahead and turn on the Google and do a search on “NFL players happy about Thursday night football” and look at the results. Now Google “NFL players unhappy about Thursday night football” and take a look. You’ll see player after player over the past several years being critical of the games. The logical conclusion to be reached is that the players, who play the games by the way, don’t think three days between games is enough time to recover from the physical pounding their body takes in an NFL game.
To which the NFL will likely respond with a gigantic yawn.
The league’s current Thursday night football deal with CBS and NBC grosses owners more than $32 million for every Thursday night game televised. If you’re an NFL owner, and you make more than a million dollars each Thursday night when your league televises a game, your reaction to hearing players say they think it might be unsafe is likely to be, “Hand me my color rush jersey and pass the chips and salsa, please.”
And the owners know they have a valuable ally in this fight. Us.
We, the people, are addicted to NFL football. We watch it. We bet on it. We argue about it. We buy the merchandise and we join fantasy leagues and knockout pools. Some of us may be angry about anthem protests. Some of us may be having second thoughts about the long-term damage the game clearly can do to the human body and mind. Some of us may even feel like Thursday night football is nothing more than a naked cash grab by a league that might add a Wednesday or Friday night game (or both) if the numbers pencil out.
If they do, we will watch.
The ratings may dip from time to time, but there’s been no indication to NFL owners that fans are in any way completely satiated with NFL games to watch. In the past two years they’ve added a series of NFL games from London that fit into yet ANOTHER new TV window…the Sunday morning slot.
Not too many years ago you had a series of Sunday early games, a couple marquee Sunday afternoon games, and a Monday game. Now, you’ve got a game from London in the early Sunday hours, then a series of games in two different Sunday afternoon windows. Then there’s a Sunday night game and a Monday night game. And then the whole thing kicks off again with Thursday night football. A decade ago, the NFL had three weekly TV window windows. Now, they often have six.
Owners will keep adding games to the national TV schedule as long as they think they can make more money. And our collective addiction to pro football indicates making money is still a sure bet for them.
So, while it’s frustrating to watch last week’s game and see so many players suffer injuries including a season ending one by Sherman, the only way Thursday night football is going away is if enough owners collectively decide they value player safety and long term health over a $1.4 million dollar check each week.
I’ll let you gauge the chances of that happening anytime soon.