Exclusive: Jerry Jones And His Cowboys Players On The Dangers & Joys Of Short-Week NFL Games

FRISCO (105.3 THE FAN) – Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ echoing of the NFL claim that Thursday night football and other short-week revenue grabs aren’t “inordinately challenging, physically, for the players” seems to me to be preposterous on its surface.

“We’ve been playing on Thursdays with short weeks and long weeks ever since I’ve been involved in the NFL,’’ Jones’ said Tuesday to “Shan & RJ” on 105.3 The Fan. “Nothing, not one shred of statistics, show it to be a disadvantage, show it to be inordinately challenging physically for the players. … We (the Cowboys, by virtue of an annual Thanksgiving involvement) are the poster child of playing on Thursday and as a result, what it does to the demand for players being rested or being healthy.”

And what does it do, exactly? And how could we ever prove what it does or does not do, exactly?

“For me, with the short week, it’s definitely not easy to recover,’’ Cowboys defensive lineman and team captain Tyrone Crawford told me. “My body usually (only) starts to recover by Thursday. Your coaches try to do the best they can by taking a lot off of you (in practice.). But it’s hard to go from a game to a game in that short of a time, and not feel it in different types of ways. “That’s how a lot of guys get injured.’’

Crawford can only speak from personal experience, of course. Yet there does not seem to be real evidence one way or another. Long-time NFL team physician Dr. David Chao tells me, “Each injury has to be looked at on an individual basis to see if there is relation to short rest.

However, analyzing major injuries over the last several years and in my anecdotal experience as a team physician … Of course there are more aches and pains to deal with. … (But) there is no increase (in major injuries) on Thursdays.’’

I would counter with how impossible it seems to know whether an injury is the result of a series of “aches and pains,’’ a build-up, stress on or exhaustion of an area. If we acknowledge that football is a game featuring “60 car wrecks every Sunday,’’ how would it not follow that there are benefits to subjecting the same human to “60 more car wrecks’’ seven days later rather than four days later?

“While there is no published data documenting a higher injury rate, and NFL Quintiles data does not report a higher injury rate for Thursday night games, there are lots of factors to consider,’’ InStreetClothes.com sports injury expert Jeff Stotts tells me. “In particular, a recent study on FootballOutsiders.com showed no higher rate of muscle injuries for teams playing in Thursday night games. But they did not account for practice load, and, while its the right methodology to consider only overuse soft tissue injuries, they have no way of knowing if players risk increased for the following week or week leading into the Thursday game due to altered load.’’

I believe that’s especially insightful given the acknowledged football culture in which players take great pride (and take powerful medicines, too) in playing hurt, in “recognizing the difference between ‘hurt’ and ‘injured,’ in “rubbing some dirt on it’’ and “taking one for the team’’ and triumphing as a “football warrior.’’

“I absolutely take pride in (playing hurt),’’ says Tank Lawrence, among the NFL sack leaders, who passed on back surgery last season to stay on the field for his team. “I missed some (2016) games and I felt like I owed my teammates. There wasn’t no time to back out and hide under the covers.”

NFL chief medical officer Allen Sills on Tuesday claimed that, over the past five years, the injury rate for Thursday football is actually lower than the injury rate for games played on other days of the week. Dr. Sills added that, of all intervals between games, the period of four days has resulted in the lowest number of injuries.

So … playing two full football games with only three days off in between is actually better for the players than playing one game a week? How many “shreds of statistics’’ do we need to question the logic of that claim from a league that, before it hired Dr. Sills in March 2017, had never before employed anyone with the title “NFL chief medical officer’’?

Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman last year labeled the Thursday night demands on players a “poopfest’’ that gives athletes “the middle finger.” (Sherman is out for the season after sustaining a ruptured Achilles last week during — you guessed it — “Thursday Night Football.’) Bills lineman Richie Incognito tells SI.com, “You get to the Thursday game, and even the healthy guys, it’s just, ‘f—, let’s just get through this. … It’s a nightmare.”

“Guys don’t have time to recover,” Seattle veteran Doug Baldwin said. “Thursday night football should be illegal.”

One thing all sides agree upon: The driving force of the existence of all these games on all these days, highlighted in the TV world by the Cowboys being on this Sunday night in prime time against the visiting Eagles, and then again in front of a national audience in the traditional Thanksgiving game against the visiting Chargers.

Revenue.

“Thursday night football, to be direct, increases the number of eyeballs that watch television,’’ Jones tells 105.3 The Fan. “I can understand networks issue over where each network wants available the highest quality game, and the NFL does, too. But the way for the most eyeballs to see the game is to have Thursday night football.”

“Eyeballs’’ equal “popularity’’ which equals “revenue.’’

I don’t begrudge the owners for any of this, I suppose — though I wish Jerry’s answer to the “Shan & RJ’’ questions about injury risks and over-saturation wouldn’t have focused on the absence of evidence but rather on the commitment to exploring for evidence.

In the meantime, NFL owners clearly have no intention of peeling back. Indeed, if they had their druthers, they would not only keep football on TV on multiple nights but eventually negotiate the players to accepting 18 regular-season games rather than the present 16.
In the meantime, some players simply accept their fate and truly feel blessed for the opportunity. Dallas receiver Terrance Williams is cut from that cloth.

“I don’t look at (a short week) in a bad way,’’ Williams tells me as we walk through the luxurious Cowboys locker room at The Star. “I look at it as you have a chance to play, a day to clear it off and reflect. (A Thursday game) is just like practice to me, but it’s a game. You actually have more time to recover the next week (because there is a 10-day window from a Thursday game to the next outing). I think it’s actually helpful because you get more time to recover on the backside.’’

As Williams tells me this, he is limping slightly, the result of an injury sustained two games ago, which causes his left ankle to swell to the size of a baseball. Terrance Williams played on that ankle last Sunday in Atlanta. He will play on that ankle this Sunday against the Eagles. And he’ll do it again after a three-day break against the Chargers on Thanksgiving.

“I don’t need attention (regarding the injury),’’ T-Will tells me. “I just want to be there for my brothers.’’

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