NFL on Wednesday? Ravens-Steelers game provides a midweek rarity

Who's ready for some… uh, Wednesday afternoon football?

Yes, for just the second time since 1949, the NFL is playing a game on a Wednesday. And stranger yet, the game between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers is set to kick off at 3:40 p.m. ET.

The timing of the game, which was originally supposed to be played the night of Thanksgiving, marks a rare departure from the NFL's typical slate of Thursday, Sunday and Monday games. And it means this will be the first season in NFL history in which at least one game has been played on every day of the week, barring further postponements.

Here's a quick primer on why the Ravens and Steelers are playing on a Wednesday afternoon and the NFL's history of Wednesday games.

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Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) throws under pressure during the second half against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. (Photo: Tommy Gilligan, Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)

Why Wednesday afternoon?

The Ravens have been dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak for more than a week now, as the virus has spread to several staff members and more than a dozen players — including star quarterback and reigning MVP Lamar Jackson. 

Amid a string of positive COVID-19 tests, the NFL first postponed Baltimore's game against the Steelers from Thanksgiving night to Sunday afternoon. As the outbreak continued, it was moved again to Tuesday night. And then, finally, the NFL pushed it to Wednesday amid increasing doubt that a Tuesday game could be safely staged.

As for the unusual kickoff time, it all came down to television programming. NBC, which holds the rights to the Ravens-Steelers game, was already slated to televise its annual Rockefeller Christmas tree lighting special Wednesday night and, according to ESPN, preferred to "honor its commitment" to broadcasting that event.

An NFL first

Wednesday's contest means that the NFL will be on track to play at least one game on every day of the week at some point during the 2020 season — which is believed to be a first in league history.

"To the best of my knowledge, after reviewing the schedules from the years we know a Wednesday game was played, that has never happened," Jon Kendle, the director of archives and football information at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, wrote in an email to USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday.

The NFL has already held games on a Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday so far in 2020, and there are games scheduled for both Friday and Saturday later this month.

When was the NFL's last Wednesday game?

More recent than you might think.

The league moved its 2012 season opener between the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants out of its traditional Thursday night window to avoid a potential television conflict. Then-president Barack Obama was set to deliver his speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte on Thursday, Sept. 6., so the NFL pushed its opener up a day to Wednesday, Sept. 5.

The Cowboys beat the defending Super Bowl champions in that game, 24-17, thanks to three touchdown passes from Tony Romo.

A long gap before that

Prior to Cowboys-Giants, the NFL hadn't played a game on a Wednesday since 1948, when the Los Angeles Rams crushed the Detroit Lions, 44-7. According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, that was also the first game in which one team (the Rams) donned a logo on its helmets.

All told, there have been 40 NFL games played on Wednesdays dating back to 1925, according to Hall of Fame data. The first featured the Cleveland Bulldogs and Detroit Panthers. (The short-lived All-America Football Conference also played a pair of Wednesday night games in the 1940s.) 

The Steelers, who were previously known as the Pittsburgh Pirates, have been a part of 10 games on Wednesdays, all of them between 1933 and 1936. Neither the Ravens nor their predecessors in the city, the Baltimore Colts, ever played on a Wednesday.

Contact Tom Schad at [email protected] or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.

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