Thursday games are a positive
Lighter practices. Long weekend. The limelight. What's not to like?
Don't believe what Ray Lewis has to say about playing Thursday games, a topic he pontificated on recently that is especially timely during Thanksgiving week.
Just because Lewis is the best player I played against doesn't mean I agree with everything he says. In fact, on this issue, we are diametrically opposed.
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"You have to ask yourself a real question when you schedule games like this: Who does it help? Because it doesn't help the players. That turnaround is just too quick," Lewis said before the Baltimore Ravens' Week 10 Thursday night game against the Atlanta Falcons. He added: "You go from playing a physical game on Sunday and you have less than four days before you have to physically get back up again. It takes a week for guys to really heal."
Lewis went on to say that he believed "99 percent" of NFL players would vote against playing these midweek games if they could. Well, if that is the case, consider me a "one-percenter."
I started on Thanksgiving in 2002 for the Dallas Cowboys against the Washington Redskins and loved it. For one, the work week is so condensed that the practices are really light and more or less glorified walk-throughs so players are as physically recovered as possible come game time. That's far more preferable in my book than the normal NFL routine that includes fairly physical practice sessions Wednesday and Thursday.
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Another plus to playing Thursday is your game is the only show in town, and that means everybody is watching. That is especially true on Thanksgiving, of course. Do you know anyone who doesn't have NFL games on the television on Thanksgiving?
But both of those positives pale in comparison to the true benefit of playing Thursday: getting the weekend off. NFL players work pretty much seven days a week from late July until early January. The opportunity to have an additional weekend off to spend time with family and friends while giving your body additional time to recuperate is invaluable. And I'm not the only one who feels that way. Seven-time Pro Bowler Lomas Brown, who played 18 years in the NFL, recently told me that he really liked playing Thursday. Said Brown: "We always looked at it like an additional bye week because of the time off that we got the weekend after the game."
He should know. Eleven of his 18 seasons were spent with the Detroit Lions, playing a home game on Thanksgiving and then enjoying the fruits of his labor the rest of the holiday weekend.
I'm sure there are other players who agree with Lewis, but I know many who agree with me. As for Lewis' question about who these games help, the answer is himself. Players get a percentage of all NFL revenue and the Thursday package brings in a serious chunk of money for the league and, therefore, the players. What's not to like about that?
From the inbox
Q: Reading your column about playing with injuries, it made me wonder if there are any guys you played with or heard about who were immune to injury. Were or are there guys who never seemed to wear down?
Josh from Boston
A: I always found it amazing how certain guys always seemed to have some injury that they needed to get treatment for while others never even walked into the training room. It truly is a combination of genetics, mindset and a decent amount of luck. That's why I've always looked up to the players who could start Sunday after Sunday year after year. I know how difficult it was for me just to be available every week and start 24 games over a seven-year career. How guys like former Eagle Jon Runyan are able to line up every week is beyond me. Not to mention London Fletcher, an undersized middle linebacker who has started 161 straight games.
Tucker's Top 10
1. Philadelphia Eagles
2. Baltimore Ravens
3. Green Bay Packers
4. New England Patriots
5. New York Jets
6. Atlanta Falcons
7. Pittsburgh Steelers
8. New Orleans Saints
9. Chicago Bears
10. Tampa Bay Bucs
Q: I usually like your perspective on pro football. That is really where it ends. I imagine you don't have any idea whatsoever about a "desk job." It's a little condescending and highly inaccurate. Like it or not, the fans pay the bills and they don't have to be fair or understanding.
Chris from Bridgewater, N.J.
A: Actually Chris, I have had a number of "desk jobs" in the form of summer and offseason internships, so I do have a pretty good idea of the discipline it takes to stay focused and productive all day long day after day, and I have tremendous admiration for people like my wife who do that. But just because they buy tickets or merchandise, I don't think it is OK for fans to be unfair bordering on rude when speaking to or about players who might have torn their biceps off the bone.
Q: As a Giants fan, I feel people unfairly criticize Eli Manning. They expect him to be his brother, and let's face it, he is not and never will be. But Eli is a good quarterback who has done nothing but get better every year he has been in the league. What can Eli do to shake the criticism, or is it something he will have to deal with for his entire career?
Marcus from Hatfield, Pa.
A: Actually, Marcus, I couldn't disagree more. Perhaps because he has already won one Super Bowl and the fact that his family is football royalty, Eli sometimes is given a free pass. He has five lost fumbles and 16 interceptions this season. But people seem to make excuses for him and blame his receivers for the picks. Please. Maybe for one or two or even three, but 16?
Q: I've noticed that some players mention their high school or junior college instead of their university when introducing themselves in the prime-time games. I've seen several players I remember from their days at Cal do this, including Aaron Rodgers and DeSean Jackson, and always thought it was a bit strange. Do you have any thoughts on why this is?
Jim from Los Angeles
A: I think players just want to give a "shout-out" to and recognize whatever it is they hold most dear, and my sense is that a lot of players are more attached to their hometowns than they are the colleges they attended. I know I might have done that if I had the opportunity.
Ross Tucker, who played on the offensive line for five teams during his seven-year NFL career, writes regularly for ESPN.com.
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