NFL, Thanksgiving go hand-in-hand
Contrary to popular belief, players love playing on Thursdays
Giants' belief that they are at a disadvantage is hogwash
Playing football during holidays helps teammates bond
Thanksgiving is here which means it is time for us to stuff our faces full of food while watching football all day long. Pretty much the daily lifestyle of an NFL offensive lineman now that I think about it. Not too shabby, is it?
As you settle in with your families Thursday, here are a few Thanksgiving-centric notes to keep in mind as it relates to the NFL:
Players love playing on Thanksgiving. Almost all NFL players grow up watching the annual Thanksgiving games because, well, everyone watches football on turkey day. Because of that, players typically thoroughly enjoy having the opportunity to play in one of these games.
I was fortunate enough to be able to play and start in one of these games my second year in the NFL in 2002 with the Dallas Cowboys and it is undoubtedly one of the highlights of my career. To me, these games are like a regular prime time game on a Sunday or Monday night times about a hundred. You have the whole nation's attention on you because, after the parades, there's not much else to watch besides football. Players thrive in that spotlight.
In fact, players really like playing on Thursdays in general. Some fans and media members speculate that players don't like having Thursday games because of the short week to prepare. Not true.
Most players love playing on Thursdays. For one, the week of practice is an absolute piece of cake. Unlike a typical long practice week that can seem to drag, the short week leading up to game time flies by. Instead of the typical work week which includes practices on Wednesday and Thursday that can involve a lot of contact work, a condensed week does not allow for that.
Instead, it usually entails a glorified "jog-thru" on Monday and Tuesday followed by a walk-thru on Wednesday and then game time. There are no pads and no hitting in order to let the players recuperate from Sunday's game in time for the live action on Thursday.
Then, best of all, players usually get the entire weekend off after the game. It really acts as an additional bye week for the players in the sense that they have one extra weekend of freedom. That weekend off can be a refresher for those teams and if there is any competitive advantage in play, that would be it.
Talk of teams being at a competitive disadvantage in these games is hogwash. Every year there are teams that play on Thursday that complain about the schedule and their belief that they have been placed at some sort of a competitive disadvantage. This year's whining seems to be coming most distinctly from the New York Giants as they prepare for their game at Denver on Thursday night.
Let's examine this for a second. The Giants played at home on Sunday at 1 p.m. eastern and were able to begin preparations for the Broncos immediately after the game ended. The Broncos, on the other hand, played the Chargers in the 4 p.m. time slot on Sunday and thus weren't able to move on to their next opponent until around 7. Now, I'm sure both teams found a way to do some advance work for their Thanksgiving match-up but the fact remains the Giants had an extra three hours with which to be fully devoted towards the Broncos. As far as I am concerned, they were already ahead of the game.
The Giants' complaint, of course, is that they have to travel during the short week. That sounds logical, but it is really irrelevant. Each team has already put in all of their game plan by the time Wednesday has rolled around. Each team has also had their two "jog-thru's" and one walk-thru by Wednesday afternoon. That means that literally the only difference between the home and away teams in this case is that the Broncos players can go back to their houses and hang out during the afternoon before reporting to the team hotel by 7 p.m. while the Giants players will be on a plane for three hours. Big deal. That is not really a competitive disadvantage at all in my book and not really any different from the competitive advantage that a home team has in any other week.
Teammates become family for players not playing on Thanksgiving. Most NFL teams typically have practice in the morning and treat Thanksgiving Day like a normal Friday during the week from a time standpoint, trying to allow their players to leave the facility by 1 p.m. local time, if not earlier. Because players obviously can't go home for the holidays since they have work that day, their Thanksgiving gatherings usually consist of being with teammates as opposed to families. Typically a veteran player that is married (i.e. has a wife who can cook) will invite some of the younger players over to their house to eat. There ends up being a number of these types of group gatherings on a given team. It's a good bonding experience for the team and the next best thing to actually being able to go home and be with your family and friends.
In fact, one of the things you pretty much give up as an NFL player is the freedom to do what you would like on the typical holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's. I remember my mother-in-law's horror when I told her that I went through the McDonald's drive-thru for dinner on Christmas Eve while I was living solo in Dallas. By her voice, I could tell that she pretty much thought that was the worst thing she had ever heard.
Don't get me wrong, I am not complaining in the slightest as the perks of the job certainly make up for the downside. It's just something a lot of fans don't think about or even realize when it comes to being a pro football player.
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