The Thanksgiving holiday threw a bit of a curveball at the Jets ahead of Sunday afternoon’s game against the Bills. The team spent Thursday away from the facility and celebrating the holiday. It was a change in approach that could throw their weekly routine off.
Typically, the Jets will have a light practice or walk-through on Monday, following their game the day before, and then an off day on Tuesday. Full gameday preparation begins in earnest on Wednesday with the installment of the game plan for the week and film study. Thursday and Friday are generally routine practices. But given the fact that the Jets played last Thursday in Denver and then with Thanksgiving following the next week, it was a scheduling snafu in the works, forcing the team to practice Monday through Wednesday, schedule a day off for Thanksgiving and then the normal Friday practice.
“It was weird, not practicing on Thursday and having to practice on Tuesday; just something we’re not really used to,” defensive end Mike DeVito said. “But I have to say, with the time off late last week after the Denver game and then three days of practice to start the week, it was nice to have yesterday off. The legs got rested up a bit; I think we were flying around a bit out there today, a bit more fresh.”
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DeVito said that he spent Thanksgiving with his wife and teammate Matt Mulligan and his wife. He took some time in the morning for stretching and doing a little conditioning work and watched game film on Buffalo on his iPad for about 45 minutes before the guests arrived. It is important, he says, “to not take off from football entirely, even on Thanksgiving.”
Last year, the Jets weren’t afforded the luxury of taking off for the holiday. They played, and beat, the Bengals 26-10 on Thanksgiving. The only turkey on that day, for the players, was the performance of Bengals wide receiver Terrell Owens, who spent the week trash talking and was shut down in the game.
And while the holiday presents a problem in terms of game preparation, there’s another issue for players who are away from home during this time. The life of an NFL player is a nomadic one, taking them away from friends and family during the holidays. Young players who are not married are especially prone to the holiday blues.
On Wednesday following practice, former Jets guard and current Director of Player Development Dave Szott was circulating around the locker room, asking young players if they had found a place to spend the holiday.
For Ropati Pitoitua, it has been six Thanksgivings since he last joined his family around the table for the holiday. The Jets defensive end hasn’t spent the day with his family since he left American Samoa for Washington State, and this time was no different.
Pitoitua was in New York City for a Thanksgiving meal with his agent and wife, a meal he said “that was turkey, all the sides and more desserts than I could imagine.” It was a way to circumvent loneliness with his family 7,000 miles away. He gave them a call in the morning to wish them well and have just a bit of familial connection on a day that can conjure up plenty of emotion.
“They understand that it is part of the business, that I need to be here and that was the case when I was in college or the NFL,” Pitoitua said. “It’s hard, definitely not easy, but it is part of this job.”
Wide receiver Patrick Turner was in North Jersey last Thanksgiving without a place to go. He remembers eating Chinese and spending the day “pretty much alone.” This year, he was invited by teammate Dustin Keller and wife to their house. Calling it a “blessing to give thanks with others,” Turner arrived at 8 a.m. at the Keller household and spent the whole day with the family.
There was a big meal, of course, and Turner gave thumbs up to Mrs. Keller’s “chicken casserole with broccoli and a whole bunch of other stuff in there.” They watched some football of course, but he kept a distance from mixing too much work with pleasure.
“It was nice to have a day off from it all, to be honest. A little unusual that it was a Thursday off but it was nice, a chance to refresh yourself because we’ve put in a lot of work this week,” Turner said. “I’m just thankful for Dustin and his wife bringing me in for that day. It was nice and made me appreciate coming into work today.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.