Thursday Night Football: ‘It Feels Horrible’

Getting another night in the week with football has been a good thing for fans, right? Well, it hasn't been for the players, who are still struggling to reconcile the NFL's push for safety with its effort to make everyone play on short rest

By
Robert Klemko
· More from Robert·
Brian Hoyer's torn ACL was one of 2013's most significant Thursday night injuries. (Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports)
Brian Hoyer’s torn ACL was one of 2013’s most significant Thursday night injuries. (Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports)

There are NFL players who welcome their turn at a Thursday night game or the annual Thanksgiving Thursday slate. Some guys like the weekend off that comes after two football games in five days.

Duane Brown is not one of these players.

“It’s dangerous,” says the Texans Pro Bowl tackle. “It feels horrible.”

Brown, whose Texans visit Jacksonville on Thursday, played two overtime games back to back, on Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012 and Thursday, Nov. 22. Brown played 172 combined snaps that week, and describes a subsequent degree of pain and fatigue that he had not yet felt in four previous NFL seasons.

“That Friday, everything was hurting; knees, hands, shoulders,” he remembers. “I didn’t get out of bed until that night. I didn’t leave the house at all. You talk about player safety, but you want to extend the season and add Thursday games? It’s talking out of both sides of your mouth.”

The NFL has long played games on Thanksgiving, but its package of Thursday night games carried by NFL Network didn’t start until 2006, with an eight-game schedule. That was expanded last season to 14 games, and the NFL, with its stated commitment to player safety, sought to answer anecdotal claims of high injury rates for midweek games with an injury study. The league found that roughly the same amount of injuries happened in 2012 Thursday games (5.2 per game) as in games played on Saturday, Sunday and Monday (5.3).

It’s compelling evidence that Thursday games are no more dangerous than Sunday games, that is, if you can watch an NFL game and believe that only five or so injuries are happening in those 60 minutes. I can’t, Duane Brown can’t and neither can the chorus of players calling for the end of Thursday Night Football.

“It’s a problem,” said Broncos guard Louis Vasquez.

“I don’t like them,” says Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson. “I guess because they don’t play in the league office, they don’t understand how your body feels.”

That’s probably true. Most of the suits who bargained for an expanded Thursday slate don’t know what it feels like to play in the NFL. Here’s what they do know: Money. There is a big TV market for an eight-game package of Thursday games, which the NFL is expected and free to sell off now that its cable arm has 14 in its possession, thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement, approved by the NFLPA in 2011. Part of the expansion of the Thursday night schedule was to ensure competitive balance, with each team having to play on the short week once, but that was likely a secondary concern to the revenue selling the Thursday package would create.

How big is the market for that package? Let’s ask John Ourand, who covers the topic for Sports Business Daily.

“What I’ve heard, is that if you take an eight game package of Thursday night games to the market, you’ll have Turner, Fox, NBC, after it and ESPN waiting to see how high the prices would go. So you’d have four bidders. And it could go broadcast beyond that.

“People believe that such a package could bring in about $700 million a year. And the NFL would keep half of the games in order to maintain the value of NFL Network.”

You have Houston and Jacksonville, which no one is looking forward to … and it will be one of the top 5 or 10 shows on TV. The power of the NFL and why they want to go to Thursday is more evident in this game than in any other.

That’s $700 million, $65 million less than the price the NFL paid the army of former players who sued over a half century of misinformation and mishandling of concussions. In essence, the NFL could and likely will recoup the losses suffered as a result of their historically cruel and obtuse injury practices, by selling off a product that many players believe puts their bodies at extended risk.

And the players don’t express these concerns with any illusions that things will change. They know they are cogs in the machine; brilliantly paid cogs, but cogs all the same. The best they can do is look at the schedule the day it’s released and hope their Thursday night game is at least early in the season, not now, in December, when players are recovering from sprained ankles and twisted knees and head trauma. As Vasquez says, “Some guys are asked to push through the pain.”

“We were lucky to get ours done early,” said Chiefs lineman Geoff Schwartz. “When I saw the schedule come out it was awesome. You can recover in Week 3. Now, I don’t actually feel good until about Saturday.”

Says Packers defensive lineman Ryan Pickett: “People don’t know this; after the game, it’s normally Friday and Saturday when your body starts feeling better. I’ve been around for 13 years, so it takes a little longer to recover.”

Putting aside for a moment the injury concerns, who would actually want to watch these 14 games featuring fatigued players, often pitting bad teams against good ones, or worse, the 2-10 Texans vs. the 3-9 Jaguars (8:25 PM ET, Thursday, NFL Network)?

Answer: EVERYBODY.

“You have Houston and Jacksonville, which no one is looking forward to,” Ourand says, “but even that game is going to win the night on cable within the male demographics everybody sells, and it will be one of the top 5 or 10 shows on TV. The power of the NFL and why they want to go to Thursday is more evident in this game than in any other.”

It’s the kind of power it takes to write a check for $765 million and keep it moving, because the owners weren’t throwing pennies in a well when they bargained for a flattening salary cap, a lowered rookie wage scale, and 14 games of midweek football. Who cares if some anonymous special teamer fighting for a job pushes himself to play with a concussion three days earlier than he would have? These men are privileged to bleed for us.

Besides, they agreed to it.

47 comments
ChrisMastergeorge
ChrisMastergeorge

Could the schedule makers just take 2 teams coming off their BYE week & put them in the Thursday night game each week?

Sure, it cuts your Bye rest from 14 days down to 11, but it reduced the concern over injuries from playing on such a short turn-around.

Is there any reason the league can't schedule it that way?

cuteasbuttons
cuteasbuttons

I love to watch football, and I have NFL Network and enjoy Thursday Night games. Every week is not a Jax vs. Houston type game. There are quality games throughout the season. When they first started broadcasting on Thurs. Night, they did these games starting later in the season, and expanded them this year to start at the beginning of the season. If I sign up to become a football player, and agree to do this as my job for a set amount of money under set conditions, then this is my job, and I agree to go do it. Young men today are receiving college scholarships that they will abandon early so that they can hopefully make an NFL roster somewhere. Young men are rejected all the time for these teams who would love to play for a minimum salary. They would play anywhere, any time under any conditions. Football players are paid very well. Granted, they are putting their bodies on the line to do this. But, they know this going in, and nobody forces them to do so. They will make more money in a year than most of us will see in a lifetime.

JorgeSmith
JorgeSmith

Well said. Now put on your panties, ladies, and let's play some football!

Dani
Dani

Thursday night football was created by and for NFL Network. And NFL Network is owned by the NFL. Why don't the players come and say to Roger Goodell : no more Thursday football games with the exception of the Thanksgiving game ? It looks pretty simple to me.

beolein
beolein

Here is the solution: If a player complains, at the next media opportunity, they are required to attend and give their thoughts comparing their their salary with that of the average American.

Octavio
Octavio

Enough talk!  (clap clap!)  ENTERTAIN ME!!!

mikewichter
mikewichter

if only there had been a lockout recently where the players and their union reps could have voiced these concerns. 

BillPetrello
BillPetrello

I'd question those NFL stats.  First, 2012 is a small sample size.  Go back to 2006 and check.  Also, this is geeky, but what about the standard deviations?  I can have the same averages/means, but I'd like to see if there were games with none and one or two with 10 injuries.  Standard deviations give us a better sense of the spread of the values.  Plus, why not look at the games played 10 days later, too?  That might be helpful.  Were more people on the questionable or probable list for those games?  Were there injuries then?  So many questions I'd have for the NFL.

JamJamJam
JamJamJam

I always wonder who watches those games.  Lots of people apparently, but I don't know anyone who does.  If my team isn't playing, the only pro game I might watch is SNF due to the quality of the broadcast and production.  MNF has terrible announcers and too much ESPN pushing itself while TNF on NFLN is just terrible football.

DrewS
DrewS

Hate Thursday Night Football. It's an inferior product forcing unprepared teams and coaches to play at much less than optimum ability. It's all about money until your starting QB is lost for the season when the OL misses a block due to fatigue.


BullFrogJam
BullFrogJam

How long will it take for the NFL and players to realize that the current direction of the sport is unsustainable? 

The only way expanding the season makes sense is if they compensate by significantly changing the game. It seems to me that if you ask players to play 2-4 more games a season, that the rules must change to reflect the extra demand on players' bodies. 

By expanding the season, the NFL can virtually mandate safety changes if they so desire. Expanding the season, and changing the game as we know it may be the only real solution to saving the sport from itself. 

RalphF
RalphF

I'm a huge NFL fan, but upon moving I just signed up for the minimum cable package that does NOT include the NFL Network (Thursday games).  One extra game a week was not worth the considerable extra cable package upgrade expense, even to see my favorite team play.  I can live without that game and hearing that the players don't like it either just solidifies my feeling that I'm supporting them.

Andrew L
Andrew L

I've always felt that a team should have a bye week before it plays on Thursday. That gives them 10 days after there game until they play on Thur. and 9 days after.

Charlie P
Charlie P

OK, I have to play Devil's advocate here.  What about the extra rest days after the Thursday games?  Do they not matter in terms of recovery?  Also, let's not overlook the fact that 55% of all league media revenue belongs to the players.  It's not just the owner's pockets getting fatter.

JustinCurrier
JustinCurrier

what about cancelling a week of pre-season everyone gets 1 extra bye during the season problem solved for both sides no additional games for players and owners get they're 18 wek schedule problem solve for both parties

TheBeerNerd
TheBeerNerd

Everybody in the sports media, this columnist included (if the last two paragraphs are any indication), has a very harmful view of NFL ownership that they like to lord over everyone. They take it for granted that the NFL owners hold all the cards and make too much money for them to face any real opposition. The underlying assumptions are that this is the way it should be- it isn't- and it can't be changed- it can, with forceful action on behalf of the players.

I'm not going to mince any words here: the players (as well as the fans, but that's for another story) are being exploited for the benefit of a few very wealthy men. Talk of "player safety" doesn't hold much water when you expand the amount of Thursday night games and continue to float around the idea of an 18-game season. It doesn't matter that the players "agreed to it" when what they agreed to was a crap sandwich on their part. If the players went on strike in the next 5 years, I would wholeheartedly support them, even if it cost half of the season. They cannot continue to be treated like they are expendable, and a strike is the only way to get that message across.

Fltops70
Fltops70

Just put the game on Monday night.  They have their own network.  They don't need permission from ESPN. There is 2 games on 2 networks on Sunday just move the day.  Problem solved

MichaelDaly
MichaelDaly

The problem with this piece is there is no case made by the players against a season-long Thursday Night slate.    The claim that "Duane Brown can't" buy that only six injuries per game are happening gets run over by the fact that it's the blunt, obvious truth, no matter how many players scream they don't like the Thursday Night games.


The safety argument is bunk on its face.   The game was never safer 20 years ago than it had ever been and it's even safer now, and it won't become more dangerous; on the contrary it will ONLY become safer even without these ridiculous "player safety" rules that are just wussification without credibility.   And the dirty little secret that's there in front of us - the players ARE adjusting to the Thursday Night slate, because they're stronger, more durable, and safer than ever before.  


When - yes, WHEN - the league adapts an 18-game schedule the players will adapt to that just fine.   Because they can't argue credibly against it.   So grow up and play.

teamdonkey
teamdonkey

Players get just under half of all revenue, right?  So close to $350 million goes in their pockets from Thursday night games.  Would they really get rid of that if put to a vote?

dumvee
dumvee

Who's Schwartz?  I assume it refers to the player and not the coach, but a first name would be nice.


Paulland81
Paulland81

Strategically use the bye weeks in conjunction with the Thursday night schedule. Both teams get the previous Sunday off. I suppose that would be too logical for today's NFL. Otherwise, I agree. The Thursday product is substandard and should go away if they can't schedule it better.

bayareafan
bayareafan

Love the method of argumentation here: the NFL study is compelling, except for these anecdotal observations.  Why is the study flawed?  Is it flawed?  Did you tally all the injuries in Thursday night games and reach a different conclusion?  Love to know.  Simply saying something along the lines of "it looks to me like more people get injured" is pretty sloppy.  Just focus on how the NFL makes decisions at odds with what players want.

clups
clups

I'm not a fan of the Thursday games at all.  There's not enough time for the players to recover from the previous Sundays games, and not enough time to adequately prepare for the Thursday night opponent.

ll316
ll316

@cuteasbuttons What if they added a lion to the mix if the players agreed to it...would that be acceptable as well?

ll316
ll316

@beolein What does the average American salary have to do with anything?  Answer: nothing.  Apparently you'd prefer the owners to make even more billions than they already do, which is all that would happen if the players made less money.  So why should the players care about the average American (which I assume you are) if your only concern is the welfare of billionaire owners?

mike202
mike202

@DrewS It's too much advantage for the Home team.  If a visiting team has to fly over 2 hours they need to come in on Wednesday.  Thus no practice at all for the game since Monday is film day and Tuesday is a mandated day off.  Dallas and Detroit have way too much of an advantage on Thanksgiving.

S5
S5

@DrewS Fatigue? they play for a total of 5 - 10 mins a game.. how can they be tired??? 

gregatacd
gregatacd

@RalphF Make Thursday night a sports pub night. At least the $$ will go to something worthy... like hot wings and beer.

gregatacd
gregatacd

@Andrew L Great idea; not sure of the logistics. We don't have byes every week, so that would preclude having a Thursday game each week unless you had byes every week. It would suck to have a bye on week 2. 

I'd like to see them turf the idea altogether, except for the Week 1 special and Thanksgiving. The rest can go. 

Perhaps Saturday night instead? I suppose that steps on the many college games that are played at night. Perhaps college should stick to Sat afternoons instead?

Andrew L
Andrew L

Same goes with games played in EU

Andrew L
Andrew L

@Charlie P   Having 9 days off after a game isn't going to help if you get injured on Thursday because you only had 3 days to recover before the game. Most players can't get to 100% with 6 days off.

Charlie P
Charlie P

@JustinCurrier The Networks pay NFL based on how much TV ads time they can sell, and that is determined by how many games are played.  With the same number of games stretched over a longer period of time, there won't be a whole lot of extra revenues, if any, for the NFL.  I doubt they would be into it from a money stand point.

ConfusionReigns
ConfusionReigns

@TheBeerNerd WHAT?!

Exploited?  Sorry I disagree.  Players do not have to play, they can decide to do something else with their life after all they did go to college (for free) and get a good education, right?  

As for fans, I'd say fans are doing the exploiting rather than being exploited.  Don't like the prices, don't pay, Pretty simple in my book.  Remember though, players risk their life and body for what, your entertainment?  Not really though, they risk it for the money, they could care less about you as long as you keep forking over the dough.  If you still need a football fix go watch high school or lower division college teams.  Those games are pretty cheap to watch.  Without the dollars that the consumers spend there would be no new stadiums, no billion dollar revenue streams, no debate over Thursday football.  As for the players, don't want to play on Thursday, then don't.  Find something else to do.  

I get it, regarding their need for recovery time.  But it does get hard to feel sorry for them when they are paid multi thousands (if not millions) to play a game.  I have no problem them getting paid, its what the market will bear, but it just seems like everyone else, they want more for doing less.  I do agree preseason should be cut back, 18 game seasons are non-starter (or should be), expanded playoffs (again) shouldn't be discussed, but at some point these guys must accept that if they are going to play pro ball its a dangerous game with a short time to make your money (which is why I don't begrudge them their contracts).  In the end though, football teams are an investment for owners.  They expect a certain return on their investment which is their right.  

Everybody is getting what they want, everybody just wants more of it, that includes owners, players and yes, you the fan.  

jamie11230
jamie11230

@Fltops70 I agree the Thursday short week is a problem.  I think they should go to Sunday night double headers - one game with a 7 pm EST start, and one on the west coast at 10.  Ratings on the east coast won't be great for the late game, but it will still make money for the league.

George
George

@Fltops70 That would most likely just split off half of ESPN's Monday night revenue due to viewer competition - I don't think it would be the same as Sunday.   

They'll stick with Thursday because all Goodell, the owners and the NFL care about is money.  They give lip-service to player safety, but I doubt they actually care about the players all that much.

BY
BY

@MichaelDaly Tell us about all the snaps you took in NFL games.

Charlie P
Charlie P

@teamdonkey Actually, players get 55% of all media revenue, which include all TV money.  They get less on licensed products and stadium revenues.  Works out to be ~48% overall.

gyffesme
gyffesme

@clups The quality of play in the Thursday night games is pretty poor, but the worst part is how the NFL.com fails to show much of the game; it's 80% talking heads and MAYBE 20% game footage. SHOW THE GAME, DAGNABBIT!

DaRupp
DaRupp

@Charlie P @JustinCurrier Not really true...it's an extra weekend of games.  Because the games are broadcast locally and simultaneously, they can easily extend a couple of the games to other markets and make up some of that revenue.  It won't be the same as a home team, but people are going to watch football on sundays, whether it's their home team or everyone else playing that week.  Fantasy has ensured that.

HorizontalGophers
HorizontalGophers

@ confused 

I don't hear the players saying they want the week off, I hear them saying they don't want to play on a short week. In your line of thought if your boss told you you have to work off schedule and you did it you'd be doing it for the money too - right? Why do you think limits are imposed on truckers and pilots. Aren't those designed for minimizing potential harm? Why are pro football players different? Because they make more money?!?!?! Sad logic to me. 

WR2

jimc5
jimc5

@George @Fltops70 CLEARLY they don't. They covered up evidence, and they actually want to INCREASE the schedule as well as having Thursday games. It's sick.

S5
S5

@gyffesme @clups there is only 11 mins of play, so you really aren't missing much. 

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