SANTA CLARA, Calif. — In 2016, Richard Sherman called Thursday night NFL games a “poopfest.”
In 2022, he joined Amazon Prime Video’s team of analysts for . . . “Thursday Night Football.”
That is one way of summing up the pros and cons of a widely unloved concept that is now here to stay.
As a player, Sherman authored an essay for The Players’ Tribune, writing, “The whole idea of ‘Thursday Night Football’ is terrible. It’s ludicrous. It’s hypocritical.”
He only was getting warmed up.
“’Thursday Night Football’ is just another example of the NFL’s hypocrisy,” he wrote. “The league will continue a practice that diminishes the on-field product and endangers its players, but as long as the dollars keep rolling in, it couldn’t care less.”
On Thursday night, he was to be on set for Prime Video’s coverage of the Giants-49ers game at Levi’s Stadium.
Don’t blame Sherman. As he correctly noted seven years ago, there is no stopping this train.
This season things got controversial when the league permitted teams to play more than once on Thursdays and instituted flex scheduling for Thursday games late in the season.
The former is bad for players; the latter is bad for ticket-holding fans.
Oh, well. Onward!
The Giants have played on many Thursdays before, including last Thanksgiving afternoon. They entered the game against the 49ers 15-14-3 all-time on that day and 3-7 in Thursday night games since 2012 (2-6 on the road).
But the game against the 49ers is the Giants' first as part of the Prime Video package that premiered in 2022. (Because of the Thanksgiving game last year, they were absolved of other Thursday night duties.)
The Giants sought to ease the logistical (and physical) pain by staying in Arizona after their victory over the Cardinals on Sunday, conducting walkthroughs at Arizona State’s indoor facility before flying to the San Francisco Bay area on Wednesday.
That made it easier to keep everyone together and focused as the coaches gave up sleep and players gave up being at home to squeeze everything into the condensed schedule.
There was one potential positive about the timing: Playing on short rest in Week 3 is far easier on many players’ bodies than doing so late in the season.
“All the Thursday games I've played in my career have always been late in the season and this one is early,” tight end Darren Waller said. “So I'm kind of grateful for that.”
Still, the mental challenge remained, especially with the Giants prepared for one of the league’s top teams — especially on defense— in the 49ers.
That onus was on the coaching staff and experienced players such as Waller.
“It takes some experience doing it,” he said. “This isn’t my first time, so I kind of know you’re not getting that off-day time or that time to kind of recalibrate. As soon as [Sunday’s game was] over, [on Monday], I’ve got to jump back into it. It’s going to be like a Wednesday-Thursday type of day coming out of it.
"It’s a little tough, but at the end of the day, this is reality. We knew we would have this for months in advance and to complain about the circumstances isn’t going to help us be any more ready. As a young guy, it’s kind of like, ‘Dang, this is happening kind of fast.’ But with the experience, you know how to handle it.”
Said safety Xavier McKinney: “A short week is tough for anybody, especially in this league. Obviously, every team has talent, every game is going to be a competitive game. It’s tough.
“But that’s why we’ve got the people that we have on staff, everybody giving us the right information to make sure that our bodies are right, to make sure we’re eating the right things and to make sure that we’re prepared and ready to go for the short week.”
One would think that a positive of the Giants’ extended stay in Arizona was the kind of team bonding that only occurs on the road — something that NFL players do less regularly than athletes in baseball, hockey and basketball.
But coach Brian Daboll even downplayed that notion, given the task at hand.
“They spend a lot of time together, obviously, when you're on the road, but a lot of that is meetings,” he said. “We go from 7:30 to late afternoon, early evening. I'm sure they spend time getting a meal together, but it's really dialed in right here. You have such a short time frame to do all your preparations.”
Amazon is paying about $1 billion a season to carry NFL games, giving the league both big revenue and a big foot into the live streaming door.
So Thursday games are not going anywhere, something even Richard Sherman has accepted. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.