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Players, coaches dislike Thursday night games

It seemed like a good marketing tool for the NFL to launch a series of Thursday night games on the NFL Network this season, but one month into the prime-time project, coaches would rather walk across burning coals than play on three days' rest.

It seemed like a good marketing tool for the NFL to launch a series of Thursday night games on the NFL Network this season, but one month into the prime-time project, coaches would rather walk across burning coals than play on three days' rest.

The quick turnaround creates a competitive imbalance and makes players more susceptible to injury, say coaches who have participated in the late-season TV series.

Before the Seattle Seahawks appeared in the Dec. 14 game, coach Mike Holmgren complained about having to play four days after a road game (and loss). So, the Seahawks looked like they'd never played together at all in a 24-14 loss at home to the San Francisco 49ers that week.

Before the Ravens visited the Cincinnati Bengals in a key AFC North game three Thursdays ago, coach Brian Billick suggested that the game represented a safety risk this late in the season, when players are normally worn down.

Billick then lost two players, including kick returner B.J. Sams, to season-ending injuries.

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Self-fulfilling prophecies or not, it is clear the Thursday night game has generated angst among the rank and file.

"Coaches don't like it, I guarantee it," Billick said recently.

In his weekly news conference before Pittsburgh played Cleveland two weeks ago, Steelers coach Bill Cowher said: "If you're a fan, it's great to have football in the middle of the week -- unless you're playing in it. I guess both teams are in the same situation. But I'm not a big fan of it this time of year."

Billick's primary concern -- and the concern of all coaches heading into the playoffs -- is one of health. He says it is dangerous to put players back on the field four days after they've slugged it out with another team.

"This league has spent a lot of time, money and resources, and I'm very proud of the lengths we go to protect our players," he said. "[But] this flies in the face of that, in my opinion."

Not everyone agrees with him, however.

Dr. Ron Grelsamer, a knee surgeon at Mount Sinai's department of orthopaedics in New York City, sees it to be "mostly a mind-set issue," not a physiological one.

"The problem is mental," Grelsamer said Wednesday. "The players have their routine and they all have rituals. Mess with their ritual and you're not messing with their bodies, you're messing with their minds."

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Grelsamer said if a player already had an injury, the reduced recovery time would lessen his chance to play in a Thursday game. But barring a long-term study on the effects of playing Thursday games, there is no proof it is more hazardous.

He cited Max McGee, hero of Super Bowl I for the Green Bay Packers, as an example.

"McGee came off the bench hung over in the Super Bowl and couldn't have been more out of shape or more tired," Grelsamer said. "Then he catches two touchdown passes. How much more tired or out of shape could you be than Max McGee on that day?"

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