The first of fourteen NFL Thursday night games was played last night. NFL games on Thursdays means that teams play in about half the time to prepare than they normally do: four days from the previous game rather than seven. Not surprisingly the execution last night was underwhelming; five interceptions, dropped passes, both quarterbacks not playing to their normal standards. My forecast is for Thursday performances to become more and more underwhelming as the season progresses.
Today’s NFL players are bigger, faster and stronger than ever before. A generation ago a 300 pound player was rare; there are now well over five hundred players of that size in the league. When you are getting hit at all angles by players that size, then four days is not enough time to recover and also prepare for the next game. Something has to give, and it’s going to be more than the quality of the performance.
Aesthetics aside, what happened to the mantra of player safety. If the NFL is so concerned about that then why the urge for more Thursday night games? The answer is simple: player safety is nothing more than window dressing. Follow the money: the NFL wants to paint a portrait that it cares for marketing purposes, and more importantly for current and future lawsuits. They want to be on television for a third night each week, and Thursday has traditionally been the best night of the week for ratings.
My counterpoint to that is this: the NFL has a captive audience. Are you going to tell me that if they played an NFL game on Saturday afternoon or Tuesday night that people are not going to tune in to watch it? Of course they are, even if the overall ratings might be lower because a small portion of casual fans don’t tune in. The fact they choose Thursday over Saturday or Tuesday tells me everything I need to know about their commitment to player safety. It also tells me that they don’t really care about the quality of the product on the field despite whatever they may say to the contrary.
Thursday night football is not a new phenomenon. There were a few games played in 1978, but the execution in those games was noticeably subpar. There continued to be some Thursday games in the 80′s and 90′s, but not to the extent that we have this year. In 2006 five games were played on the then brand new NFL Network. The only reason for the increase in the quantity of these games is profits.
Why not meet somewhere in the middle? Playing a game on Saturday gives a team just one less day than a normal full week’s rest; it’s the same amount of time off for a team that plays on Monday Night. If Saturday is off limits because it is considered to be a television ratings wasteland then how about Tuesday? That would give teams an additional day off; while one extra day may not seem like much to you and me, I am sure five days off rather than four would make a world of difference to the player’s bodies, and would also be very much appreciated by the coaching staffs attempting to prepare and game plan. If the NFL is absolutely insistent on playing on Thursday then they should only schedule teams coming off a bye.
NFL fans deserve a better quality product than what is currently being delivered on Thursday night. More importantly, NFL players deserve better working conditions than having to play four days after their last game.
September 14, 1974: Eric Clapton‘s version of Bob Marley‘s I Shot The Sheriff from his 461 Ocean Boulevard album becomes the number one single in the US. The song introduces Marley, who originally released the song in 1973, to millions of new fans.
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