We found something worse than replacement refs — Thursday night football

September 28, 2012 | Drew Forrester

There’s a reason why horses don’t race every third day.

They’re not built to do it.

And likewise, football players aren’t built to play two games in four days.

Nowhere was that more evident than on Thursday night in Baltimore, where the Ravens and Browns plodded along in the rain until a Brandon Weeden pass sailed through the end zone on the game’s final play to give Baltimore a 23-16 win.

It’s a shame that NFL players and coaches have to go through this exercise-in-futility once a season, but that’s the way it goes these days as the league tries to dig itself out of a deep financial hole otherwise known as the NFL Network.

What sounded like a great idea a half-dozen years ago — “let’s start our own TV network and dedicate it to the NFL 24/7” – has now contributed to the watering down of a terrific product.  These Thursday night affairs have become so benign and pedestrian that the outcome is all but predictable.  In fact, the home team is now 17-5 over the last 22 of these things.

“No matter how much you try (as a player), there’s no way you feel like this is actually a ‘regular’ game,” said one Ravens veteran to me in the locker room after the rainy escape from the Browns.  “I’ve played in a lot of these now and they always have the same weird feeling.  You just get the sense everyone wants to be into it, but some guys just aren’t.  It’s hard.  We just played on Sunday. Usually on Wednesday or Thursday you’re just starting to feel like yourself again.”

That’s exactly what it looked like to me on Thursday.

“Everyone wants to be into it, but some guys just aren’t.”

That Thursday night’s affair featured the visiting Browns was a major help to the Ravens.  Last week, the Panthers drew the short end of the stick when the defending Super Bowl champions came calling and the Giants manhandled Carolina, 36-7.  Cleveland is almost an automatic win these days…and that’s when you play them on Sunday.  Mix in a Thursday night encounter and it’s about the slammest of slam dunks.

The Browns did manage to throw a scare into John Harbaugh’s team, nearly driving the length of the field before the game’s final pass was incomplete in the end zone, but this one was over when the schedule came out last April.

You’re not coming to Baltimore on a Thursday night and beating the Ravens.

Especially if you’re the Browns.

But the real story of Thursday night’s game wasn’t that the Ravens (now 3-1*) won and the Browns (0-4*) lost.

The story of the night was the force-fed approach of Thursday night football by the NFL, who have figured out a way to damage their own enterprise by making players do something they’re not built to do.

Football players – ever since their days in high school – have conditioned themselves to play a game once a week, with 6 or 7 days of rest and recovery from game-to-game.

Three days of recovery isn’t enough for a professional player.

And for a league hell bent on stressing player safety, the message that’s sent with Thursday games is fuzzy at best.  No one wants to play football on Thursday night.  No one.  Ask any coach in the league if they want to play on Thursday and they’ll tell you “hell no”.  Ask any player and you’ll hear the same thing.

But the league, of course, didn’t ask the coaches or players if they wanted to play on Thursday night.

The NFL chased the money, again, and came up with a new way to maximize revenue while minimizing quality.

I assume Thursday football is here to stay.

And I can also assume – or guarantee – that Thursday football will always be scoffed at by the coaches and the players, who simply aren’t built to play two football games in four days.

(Note: Records of Ravens* and Browns* are noted with * to acknowledge that games were played in the regular season with non-professional officials calling the games.)