Are you ready for some football? On Thursday?
The answer to that question is largely irrelevant, of course. No matter how many players grouse about the safety issues of playing on three days’ rest, no matter how many fans gripe about the sloppy Thursday games, no matter how many viewers grumble about being unable to find the games on the NFL Network, they aren’t going anywhere.
In fact, The Wall Street Journal reported this week that the NFL is considering adding a slate of Thursday night games to create doubleheaders, in an attempt to boost interest. Commissioner Roger Goodell on numerous occasions has supported “Thursday Night Football,” giving every indication that he views the expansion of the institution last year to be good for the league.
This is just wrongheaded. While I recognize the insatiable desire of many fans to consume pro football, and the equally ravenous desire of the NFL — and, to be fair, its players — to maximize revenue, there has to be a breaking point. And to me, it’s “Thursday Night Football,” which has produced Mark Sanchez’s infamous butt fumble among its numerous assaults on football sensibilities.
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Oh, the Seahawks, who take their Thursday night turn this week against Arizona, are putting a happy face on it. That’s how Pete Carroll teams are taught to operate, embracing his “No Whining, No Complaining, No Excuses” mantra.
“I think it’s going to be a bunch of fun,’’ Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said Tuesday. “You always are looking for your next opportunity on the field. … I think people would rather play than practice.”
Chimed in wide receiver Golden Tate, “We’re excited to get out there and play football so quickly.”
Added safety Earl Thomas, “You know, in high school you always wished you could have that game the next day. It’s just like that. So I’m excited.”
But other players have been more outspoken about the physical challenges of going full-bore Sunday, then having to do it again Thursday. Most will tell you that their body doesn’t begin to recover from the rigors of the previous week until Wednesday or Thursday. And that’s when they’re being asked to go to battle again.
Just this week, in an online chat with the San Jose Mercury News, Anquan Boldin of the 49ers said, “I mean, if you’re so concerned about player safety, then why do you have every team in the league playing on Thursday night when they just competed on a Sunday, knowing how difficult it is for guys to get back to being healthy after playing on Sunday?”
That echoes what Ed Reed said in 2012, as quoted in Sports Illustrated: “If they were really so concerned about the violence and the injuries, players getting hurt, answer this question for me — why is there ‘Thursday Night Football’? We played three games in 17 days.”
The Seahawks will be playing their third game in 12 days, and they acknowledge the challenges of the final one.
“As we well know, playing a football game is like getting into multiple car accidents,’’ said wide receiver Doug Baldwin. “So in order for you to allow your body to recover, there’s so much that goes into it, not only physically but mentally. We don’t have the day we can get away from the facility and rest our minds. So you have to be on top of your game mentally. It’s a struggle at times.”
Carroll and the Seahawks are doing everything they can to minimize the stress on the players, from lighter practices to truncated game plans.
“You just don’t have as many options as you normally would; you’re just missing days,” said Carroll, who added: “I’m not worried so much about us not being fresh enough, because we took care of them.”
The NFL points out that teams who play Thursday night benefit on the other end by having “mini-bye weeks” before playing again.
The league has also has cited studies showing that Thursday games don’t produce any more injuries. But Dr. Gerard Verlotta of the NYU Medical Center’s Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitative Medicine, who has examined numerous players, told The Associated Press last October: “The short turnaround and the number of practices condensed into a shorter time can lead to more fatigue and more injuries.”
It sure seems to be leading to lousy games, with visiting teams particularly vulnerable. Who can ever forget the 49ers’ 10-6 win over the Bears in 2009 in which Jay Cutler threw five interceptions, and there were more penalties (19) than points? There are many other fiascos to pick from.
It’s not surprising considering that players are still in recovery mode. Just last year, the Seahawks had their worst offensive game on Thursday, producing 251 yards in a 13-6 loss in San Francisco.
These issues could be mitigated by giving teams a bye the week before they play Thursday. Others have suggested that the NFL switch games from Thursday to Tuesday, which would add one more day of rest.
For now, though, the NFL apparently will continue this not-so-grand experiment, and so the Seahawks will put a happy face on it.
“It’s another opportunity for me to keep it going, and for this team to keep it going, pad the stats, have fun, enjoy each other,’’ Thomas said. “We just have to prepare better than they prepare.”
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @StoneLarry