For decades, America embraced the rhetorical question “Are You Ready for Some Football?” All our rowdy friends came over on Monday night. We waited all day for Sunday night, too. But when it came to Thursdays, for a long time the NFL never really felt to me like appointment television. More maybe-see TV as opposed to must-see TV.
A mental checklist ran through my brain before fully immersing myself in the experience. Asking pertinent questions such as:
- Is it an interesting game?
- Do I need to catch up on work?
- Have I made previous plans?
- Shouldn’t I be doing something more productive like winterizing my home, reupholstering a couch, or trying to solve a murder from that true crime podcast?
Watching the NFL is usually a joy, but Thursday Night Football was sometimes a buzz-kill. Blame the moral conundrum of whether or not players should be risking their bodies on such short rest. Blame the seemingly endless parade of Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Tennessee Titans matchups. Blame the hideous Color Rush uniforms.
For so long, the NFL treated TNF like a cash-grab gimmick, so it was hard to muster much enthusiasm. It’s easy for indifference to set in when you feel like the thing you love doesn’t love you back. Damn you, NFL! Don’t take my affections for granted. Show a little effort, like you used to at the beginning of our beautiful relationship.
But recently something has changed. I am happy to report that I have slowly, unexpectedly fallen in love with TNF. It wasn’t instantaneous. Can’t point to one particular moment or game. However, I’m absolutely giddy to see Amazon’s regular-season debut of its online-only national exclusive broadcast on Prime Video.
This isn’t your older brother’s TNF. It’s a maiden voyage. A streaming-only (outside of over-the-air broadcasts in teams’ home markets) primetime game featuring two likely Super Bowl contenders and two of the league’s best young quarterbacks. The Los Angeles Chargers vs. the Kansas City Chiefs. Patrick Mahomes vs. Justin Herbert.
Clearly, the NFL is showing you that it cares. Last year’s TNF opener was the New York Giants vs. the Washington Football Team. Look at the upcoming schedule. There isn’t a potential Thursday clunker until Week 6 (the Washington Commanders vs. the Chicago Bears) or perhaps Week 10 (the Atlanta Falcons vs. the Carolina Panthers).
Not a Jacksonville vs. Tennessee meeting in sight. Praise the Lord.
As much as I would like to credit the new partnership with Amazon for leading the NFL to up its game when it comes to its games, the league has made an effort to improve the TNF product in recent years with more attractive matchups. And while players might hate Thursday games, there is no concrete evidence that playing these games is any more dangerous than regular Sundays.
Players may complain, but TNF means more money and more exposure. And guess what? You can make an argument that the best regular-season game of 2021 was the Chiefs’ overtime Thursday victory against the Chargers.
That was awesome. We can only hope this Thursday will be just as enjoyable. Thursday Night Football will never be Sunday Night Football, and may not even be Monday Night Football. But it can be its own version of something special.
America’s appetite for the NFL seems insatiable. That’s why the regular season expanded to 17 games last season. That’s why the playoffs expanded by two teams two years ago. If there’s a point of oversaturation, we haven’t reached it yet. And when football season is over, we miss it badly.
For many adults, the day after the Super Bowl is the equivalent of how you felt as a child on the day after Christmas.
It took a while, but I’ve learned to love Thursday Night Football. Flaws and all, I’ll be watching every single game.