By Ashley Dunkak
ALLEN PARK (CBS DETROIT) – Even for super-strong, supremely conditioned NFL players, it takes time to recover from several hours of Herculean effort accompanied by high-speed, high-impact collisions.
Normally, NFL players get six days to recuperate between games. Before Thursday Night Football contests that every team must now play each season, the turnaround time is cut in half, and many players do not like it.
Is the NFL — which touts its commitment to player safety in the wake of concussion lawsuits — risking players’ health for the sake of adding to the bottom line?
Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush, who has rushed for 854 yards on 180 carries and 448 yards on 45 catches, said those three days between Sunday and Thursday – half the usual time between games – is not enough.
“I’m not a huge fan of it,” Bush said. “We don’t get a lot of time for our bodies to recover. Football games – I always try to relate them to for the average person – it’s just like being in a car crash. Like literally every time you’re getting hit is like being in a car crash. Imagine as a running back you’re getting hit – I touched the ball at least 20 to 30 times a game, that’s 20 to 30 car crashes you’re in in two hours. It’s tough to get your body back ready that quick for a game on Thursday.”
Many players would like to see Thursday games disappear or at least get pared down, but with the demand for NFL games, and the cash machine it’s become, that seems unlikely.
Pro Bowl tackle Duane Brown of the Houston Texans believes the expansion of Thursday games reveals a discrepancy between the NFL’s stated goals of player safety and its pursuit of big profit at all costs.
“You talk about player safety, but you want to extend the season and add Thursday games?” Brown told SI.com. “It’s talking out of both sides of your mouth.”
The extra day of games began in 2006 on the NFL Network with eight games on the Thursday Night Football docket. Last season, the NFL expanded the series to 14 games.
The addition to the schedule brings in an estimated $700 million in revenue, according to John Ourand of Sports Business Daily.
Despite the money it generates, Brian Billick, the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens from 1999-2007, wrote for NFL.com that Thursday games are a huge burden for teams, one that few appreciate.
“We’re not supposed to say this aloud while we’re coaching, but I can say it now: Players and coaches mostly despise the Thursday games,” Billick wrote. “It leads to a schedule that’s even more maniacal than usual for coaches. And it’s a physical ordeal for players to recover in time to strap on a helmet Thursday — especially late in the season, when they’ve been beaten up and worn down by the relentless schedule, with only one bye week since early August.”
Pro Bowl tackle Brown is one of many more players around the league – including Denver Broncos guard Louis Vasquez and Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson – who have voiced strong feelings on the perils of Thursday Night Football.
“It’s dangerous,” Brown told SI.com’s Robert Klemko. “It feels horrible.”
Many of the Lions are used to playing Thursday games because Detroit participates in the Thanksgiving Day game every year, but Bush said Thursday games around the league are not a good idea.
“I don’t think it’s enough time, and I’m glad we only have to do it once,” Bush said. “It’s definitely something that maybe you can look at chopping it down to maybe half.”
Some players like the change of pace of playing Thursday, the following week that functions almost like a mini-bye, and the spotlight that accompanies the weekday games. All agree, though, that physically the turnaround is rough.
“You’re hurting all through the week in practice,” Lions guard Rob Sims said. “Usually on Thursdays I’m like, ‘Oh OK, I’m feeling okay,’ and Friday’s I’m like, ‘OK, now I want to feel good,’ but during that [short week] you don’t get a chance. You’re just like, hey, just playing hurt basically – or not hurt, but sore.”
Usually players get Mondays off, but in a short week, instead of rest, players return to practice on a day that often ranks quite high on the pain scale.
“I would say Monday, on an average, I’m a nine,” Sims said with a wry laugh. “9 out of 10. It’s pretty brutal, especially when we play somebody in our division. It’s pretty brutal. It was a rough week. It was a rough week.”
All players get banged up from week to week, and much of the time between games is spent rehabbing injuries. With a short week, it needs to be done in half the hours.
“If you’ve got to get a massage, go to a chiropractor, do your contrast hot tub-cold tub, if you’ve got to do all these things in six days usually, now you’ve got to condense it,” Lions wide receiver Nate Burleson said.
Occasionally, that shortened turnaround means players who could have healed up enough for a Sunday game end up not playing. As National Football Post noted earlier this season, Bears cornerback Charles Tillman could not go Oct. 10 against the Giants, and Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis had to sit out Oct. 24 against the Bucs.
Lions coach Jim Schwartz did not comment on his thoughts on Thursday Night Football in general, but he said the short week is hard even for coaches, much less the athletes getting ready to go right back out on the field.
“It’s tough on the coaches,” Schwartz said. “I can’t imagine what it’s like on the players.”
In the words of Sims, it is pretty brutal.