Thursday Night Football is everything that's wrong with the NFL

Jim Brown-US PRESSWIRE

A closer look at Thursday Night Football, the brand new NFL tradition that nobody ever wanted.

Wednesday afternoon the NFL sent out a press release about player safety and Thursday Night Football. This is the beginning of that press release, presented here because it nearly drove me insane:

After an intriguing trio of Thanksgiving Day games, the NFL’s Thursday Night Football schedule continues this week when the Atlanta Falcons host the division-rival New Orleans Saints on NFL Network.

While the NFL instituted a new wrinkle this year with an expanded 13-game Thursday night schedule on NFL Network – bringing the 2012 season total to 16 Thursday games – football on Thursdays dates back to the earliest days of the NFL.

From the six Thanksgiving Day games in 1920 to the current scheduling format which ensures that all 32 clubs will play on one Thursday following a Sunday game, Thursday football is an evolving NFL tradition – but not a new one. More than 300 NFL games have been played on Thursdays all-time, including 191 since 1970.

Fan reaction to the Thursday games this season has been enthusiastic, with all Thursday games sold out and broadcast locally in the home team markets. The competition on the field has been intriguing. Eight of the 13 Thursday games played to date have been within one score in the fourth quarter, punctuated by outstanding individual performances.

As with any change to the playing schedule or rules, the NFL continues to study the effects on the health and safety of its players, especially the number of injuries that occur on Thursday nights...

Let's just highlight the most outrageous lines from this.

1. After an intriguing trio of Thanksgiving Day games, the NFL’s Thursday Night Football schedule continues...

HOLD ON. The Thanksgiving games may have been "intriguing", but technically speaking, the game that was billed as "Thursday Night Football" was horrendous. Just like 90 percent of all Thursday Night games this year, because Goodell's haunting ginger spirit has cursed these games to disappoint us forever. Don't try to link this failing experiment to Thanksgiving football--it's like comparing the WNBA playoffs to the first Thursday of March Madness.

2. Football on Thursdays dates back to the earliest days of the NFL.

Oh f*** off.

3. From the six Thanksgiving Day games in 1920...

SERIOUSLY, f*** off.

4. ...to the current scheduling format which ensures that all 32 clubs will play on one Thursday following a Sunday game.

At least this explains that Bills-Dolphins game getting the prime time treatment.

5. Thursday football is an evolving NFL tradition – but not a new one. More than 300 NFL games have been played on Thursdays all-time, including 191 since 1970.

Ugh. We'll come back to this.

6. Fan reaction to the Thursday games this season has been enthusiastic.

  • Packers 23 Bears 10
  • Giants 36 Panthers 7
  • Ravens 23 Browns 16
  • Rams 17 Cardinals 3
  • Titans 26 Steelers 23
  • 49ers 13 Seahawks 6
  • Bucanneers 36 Vikings 17
  • Chargers 31 Chiefs 13
  • Colts 27 Jaguars 10
  • Bills 19 Dolphins 14

These games make me want to never watch sports again.

7. The competition on the field has been intriguing.

Did Bob Costas write this?

8. Eight of the 13 Thursday games played to date have been within one score in the fourth quarter, punctuated by outstanding individual performances.

Who can forget Brandon Weeden in that Browns-Ravens thriller?!

9. As with any change to the playing schedule or rules, the NFL continues to study the effects on the health and safety of its players, especially the number of injuries that occur on Thursday nights.

This part is great because it reads like something you'd find on a pack of cigarettes.

Star-divide

From there, the press release goes further in depth on the NFL's vigilance about the Thursday Night Football injury concerns, carefully stressing that there's no evidence it makes the game any more unsafe. Which is fine. I kinda believe the NFL when they say the game's aren't any more unsafe, but only because it's basically impossible to make NFL games any more unsafe.

Citing player safety worries would be an easy crutch to get sanctimonious about Thursday Night Football, but let's not do that. What's more important is that Thursday Night Football sort of epitomizes everything that's awful about today's NFL. Back to that "191 games on Thursday" number.

Thursday football is an evolving NFL tradition – but not a new one. More than 300 NFL games have been played on Thursdays all-time, including 191 since 1970.

This is the NFL's bullshit stripped to its core. There is no old tradition. The NFL tradition would be football on Saturdays in December, but the NFL killed that because they'd rather broadcast Thursday games on the NFL Network than sell anything to networks on a Saturday.

"But 191 games!" you say.

Okay, with the help of Pro Football Reference, let's break that number down.

  • By my amateur count it looks like there have been 9,615 total games played since 1970, meaning that, at best, the NFL's new "tradition" is 1.7 percent of total games.
  • Take away the 54 (non-Thanksgiving) Thursday games played on Thursday since Roger Goodell started this little experiment in 2006, and the number of games is 137.
  • Then subtract the 84 Thanksgiving games the Lions and Cowboys have played on Thanksgiving, and the number of non-Thanksgiving Thursday night games is 53 in 42 years. Or, 0.5 percent.

Thursday games used to be a happy fluke of scheduling, that's all. There is no tradition of playing on Thursday anymore than the 10 games the NFL's played on Friday since 1970 constitute any "history".

So to review: In the face of this year's Thursday Night Football criticism about their mediocre product that's possibly endangering players, the NFL is twisting history to pretend like none of this is anything new. Nobody was complaining for the past 42 years!

It's all pretty insulting, but this is just how the NFL handles PR these days.

Thursday Night Football is awful on a weekly basis because teams aren't used to playing after two days of non-contact practice, and the games are sloppy and unwatchable as a rule. It may not be more dangerous, but given Goodell's history of pushing for an 18-game schedule that would definitely be more dangerous, it's hard to imagine safety risks would matter. The NFL doesn't care about the actual product here--how it's made, the risks, what it looks like--all that matters is that it gets consumed by someone, somewhere. That month with replacement refs proved this too.

Football fans openly mock Thursday games or just ignore them, the games are forgotten as soon as they happen, and the whole thing only exists because it's leverage to help the NFL gouge cable providers into carrying the NFL Network at a premium, a cost that's instantly passed on to you.

Next to the direction of the league, in general, all this is perfect. Parity has turned most of the league mediocre and made it impossible to watch 80 percent of NFL games every weekend. We love the RedZone channel because actually watching an entire Jaguars-Bengals game would make us all homicidal. Instead we can enjoy four ridiculous plays from A.J. Green and ignore the other two hours and fifty minutes of misery. Beyond that, player safety remains a weekly concern with no clear answer beyond aggressively condescending PR campaigns every other commercial break, actually going to an NFL stadium is a completely unbearable six hour commitment to overcrowded wallet-thinning misery, and rather than address any of it, the NFL points to FOOTBALL TRADITION while they force their crappy product down our throats more often than ever.

We are told to LOVE FOOTBALL whether it's worth loving or not.

I won't stop watching anytime soon, mostly because there's nothing else on TV on Sundays, and the Red Zone Channel is still great, at least until they start charging $180-a-year for it. But I've been done with Thursday Night games all year, and it feels fantastic every single week. (This week's Saints-Falcons game looks like it could be good, but if it is, it'll be the first one we've had all year.)

So what we're saying is, yes, Thursday Night Football is the NFL at its worst.

But also: Whenever the country falls out of love with the NFL, I'll look at 2006 and the invention of "Thursday Night Football" as the beginning of the end for me. When the league became more inescapable than ever just as it very quietly became less awesome. I'm done with Thursday Night games because it just isn't worth it to try and care about two kinda-crappy teams playing a sloppy game that can only be memorable if a player gets horribly injured. And if you look closely, that's been the direction of most regular season games for a few years now, but it doesn't matter as long as everyone keeps getting rich. Ultimately, Thursday Night Football is the 2012 NFL at its worst but also its most honest. And honestly, this new tradition kind of sucks.

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