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Berry Tramel

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NFL: The hidden unfairness of Thursday night games

by Berry Tramel Modified: December 19, 2013 at 10:10 am •  Published: December 19, 2013

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, left, looks to pass as Cincinnati Bengals outside linebacker Vontaze Burfict (55) defends in the third quarter an NFL football game on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, left, looks to pass as Cincinnati Bengals outside linebacker Vontaze Burfict (55) defends in the third quarter an NFL football game on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

No Thursday night NFL game this week. Bummer for us. Bonanza for whatever teams would have been involved.

Thursday Night Football violates one of pro football’s covenants: quality control. From playing rules to the payroll cap to the draft, the NFL is all about quality control. That’s why a point spread of eight is considered humongous in the NFL. Why a 28-14 final is considered a blowout.

The NFL is an even playing field.

Except when it comes to Thursday nights.

Football is a physically demanding game. Post-game locker rooms look like the Atlanta scene from “Gone With the Wind.” The injured maimed lying everywhere. Players dragging themselves to the showers. Rolls of tape and pads and braces lying in huge piles.

And to ask teams to play on a Thursday night after a Sunday game is quite the assignment.

It also has a huge benefit – on Thursday night, you’re almost always playing a team that is coming off three days rest, just like you, but the following game, you’re playing on nine days rest against a team usually on six days rest. That’s a major advantage.

The NFL this season had every team play on Thursday, which included three games on Thanksgiving. Thirty teams played once on Thursday. Denver and Baltimore, who opened the season against each other on a Thursday night, played twice.

And with two weeks left in the season, the NFL scrapped the Thursday night game. It will also scrap the Monday night game next week.

But the hidden problem with Thursday night games is the schedule of the teams in its preceding game.

Mostly, the NFL tries to be fair. A team hosting a Thursday night game usually plays on the road the Sunday before. A team facing a Thursday night road game usually plays at home the Sunday before.

That’s as it should be. The shortened week is wild in terms of what teams have to cram into a schedule. A game plan. A practice or two. Forget the physical toll. The mental part of the game is absurdly demanding.

Equalizing the travel demands – either coming home from the preceding game or traveling to the Thursday night game – should be mandatory.

But it’s not always so.

Six times this year, Thursday night teams both were coming off preceding home games: San Diego’s 27-20 victory at Denver, Detroit’s 40-10 home rout of Green Bay, Indianapolis’ 30-27 home victory over Tennessee, Chicago’s 27-21 home victory over the Giants, Cleveland’s 37-24 home victory over Buffalo and Kansas City’s 26-16 victory at Philadelphia. So when both Thursday teams are coming off home games, the Thursday home team is 4-2.

No Thursday game this year included a matchup of teams coming off road games.

But one game was the inexcusable scenario of a team coming off a home game, then hosting a Thursday game against a team that was coming off a road game.

On Thanksgiving night, the Ravens beat the Steelers 22-20 in Baltimore. The previous Sunday, the Ravens hosted the Jetropolitans and won 19-3. But that same Sunday, Pittsburgh won 27-11 at Cleveland.

I know, Cleveland to Pittsburgh is not a huge trip. I don’t even know if the Steelers fly to Cleveland. You could bus the 134 miles just as easily.

But still, flying or busing, either one is a hassle. The Steelers on Sunday afternoon had to get back to Pittsburgh, probably arriving around 7 p.m. or so, and less than 72 hours head out for Baltimore. And again, not a long trip, 247 miles. But the headaches of traveling are not the miles spent in the air. The headaches of traveling are the preparation, and getting to the airport, and getting to your hotel, and, well, you know the drill.

It’s fundamentally unfair that a team playing a home game gets to play another home game, four days later, against a team coming off a road game.

The NFL tries to avoid it and almost pulled it off this season. But it should be black-letter law. Thursday night games should be hosted by teams coming off a road game, against a team coming off a home game.

by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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