Thursday nights take on a much different vibe in adulthood than in those four(-plus) magical years of college. It’s really no surprise, then, that Thursday night football takes on a much more fun aura when played by college kids, and the version involving pros is often a joyless slog.
On college campuses nationwide, Thursday marks the unofficial beginning of the weekend. The biggest and best party night of the week was often Thursday at my alma mater.
Setting the tone nicely for another college football weekend, Week 6 Thursday night football featured two games that went to the final possession.
Memphis used 27 unanswered points to rally from down two touchdowns against Temple.
Memphis KO return for TD https://t.co/xPFx0NqF2O
— Kevin Causey (@CFBZ) October 7, 2016
Louisiana Tech held off a raucous rally, weathering a three-touchdown fourth quarter from Western Kentucky to end the Hilltoppers’ 13-game winning streak in Conference USA.
These games embodied the spirit of Thursday night football — the college variety, at least. Arizona-San Francisco functioned as a perfectly accurate microcosm for the professional spin on Thursday night football: listless and laboring.
See, while Louisiana Tech and Western Kentucky combined for 59 first-half points, the Cardinals and 49ers combined for 12 first-half punts.
I won’t argue college football’s “better” — preference is a matter of taste, and the top fraction-of-a-percent of college players make up the NFL. Even so, the brand of football played on Thursday nights in the NFL feels more befitting the XFL.
And that’s not an XFL sans Orlando Rage alum and Western Kentucky head coach Jeff Brohm.
Since it became a mainstay a few seasons ago, NFL Thursday has undeniably produced a lower quality of football. Credit (or blame) the motivation behind The Shield making Thursday nights a permanent part of the calendar.
In the college game, Thursday night football was born of mutually beneficial opportunity: ESPN needed to fill airtime and expand its distribution with original programming viewers wanted, and the national stage gave programs that would otherwise go without it an opportunity to shine.
Television has changed dramatically in the nearly three decades since Thursday night football made its way onto cable, but the basic ethos behind it remains the same. Even in a crowded marketplace, TV loves live football, and the lesser profile programs still seek a piece of the spotlight.
The 1990s, the early days of Thursday night football, helped fuel Virginia Tech’s rise to national prominence. Amid its current resurgence, Memphis has played some high-profile Thursday night games, which no doubt help boost the program’s recruiting profile.
Perhaps the college game’s next great wide receiver tuned into CBS Sports Network to see Carlos Henderson’s 232-yard, three-touchdown performance for Louisiana Tech and said, That’s the offense I want to play in.
— LA Tech Football (@LATechFB) October 7, 2016
Thursdays provide a unique platform for these programs. The NFL doesn’t need the platform, but with its surge in popularity over the last decade, the league pounced on an opportunity to squeeze more advertising dollars.
It exists for bottom line. No wonder that collegiate Thursday night football often feels like dancing ’til last call, while NFL Thursday comes off like setting the alarm for a 5:30 a.m. wakeup and crawling into bed before 10.
Professional football on Thursdays doesn’t stink exclusively due to mystique, however. Asking any football player to take the field on four days’ rest is absurd; expecting it of the top 1 percent from the top 1 percent is downright asinine.
But that’s business. Business sends us to our jobs on Friday mornings. College lets us stay out on Thursdays until the wee hours and sleep it off ’til brunch.