The NFL had been pushing for a 17-game regular season for quite some time — revenue rules! — and it finally got its wish as part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement signed into effect last year. Beginning with the 2021 regular season, the league would add one more week of action to it pre-playoff schedule.
Moving to a 17-game format will be quite a change for everyone involved with the league, but especially those who actually take the field. Beginning this year, players will have to go through the rigors of one additional week of preparation and play with no additional recovery time added to the schedule.
While this will be a new experience for the vast majority of current NFL players, some have actually played 17 regular season games already through the years. As Eric Edholm of Yahoo! Sports recently noted, eight players in league history have gone through a 17-game season before. Among them also is one former member of the New England Patriots.
Meet Chris Singleton, who accomplished the feat in 1993.
Singleton originally entered the league as the eighth overall selection in the 1990 draft. He had been a highly productive pass rusher at the University of Arizona but though his first three seasons in New England struggled to find his footing: Singleton appeared in 33 games between 1990 and 1992, but he only registered four sacks (although he did have a fumble recovery and an 82-yard interception return for a touchdown as well).
The Patriots ended their 1992 season with a 2-14 record, leading to some sweeping changes atop the organization. The most prominent among them was the dismissal of head coach Dick MacPherson and the subsequent acquisition of Bill Parcells.
Singleton appeared in the first eight games under Parcells but, used as an inside linebacker, he was not seen as a fit for defensive coordinator Al Groh’s scheme. As a result, the former first-round draft pick was waived by the Patriots in early November.
Be did not make it to the open market, though: the Miami Dolphins claimed the then 26-year-old off waivers and immediately made him active for their game against the New York Jets just four days later.
When that game was over, Singleton had played nine games in nine weeks, with seven more on the schedule over the final seven weeks of the season. After all, the Patriots did not yet have a bye when they released him; the Dolphins, on the other hand, enjoyed theirs before the linebacker was added to the mix. The bizarre twist is that the league gave its teams two bye weeks that year, and Singleton still missed all of the opportunities.
As a result, he was forced to do something no other player in league history had done at that point: play 17 regular season games.
No additional contests were added to his slate, though, with the Dolphins missing the playoffs thanks to a Week 18 loss against Singleton’s former team: heading into the contest in need of a win, Miami lost 27-33 in overtime.
Singleton went on to spend three full seasons in Miami after his 1993 campaign, playing in 49 games and adding three more sacks to his totals. Following his release by the Dolphins after he refused to take a pay cut, Singleton joined the San Diego Chargers but never actually appeared in a game for them.
Even though he spent a total of seven seasons in the NFL and played 90 games, Singleton later told the New York Times in 2015 that his time in the league left him depressed and led to health and personal problems.
“I’m still hurt, and it takes a big-time toll. We’re taught to self-medicate because we’re supposed to be warriors. I put everything on my shoulders, and dealing with the pain can be real destructive,” he said. “I was married once and divorced after I got out of the NFL, and I attribute that to being angry that my career was over, and I thought I was still able to play.”
While Singleton’s on-field contributions have not earned him a noticeable spot in pro football annals, the league’s switch to a 17-game format puts him in the spotlight again.
After he played 17 games in 1993, seven others did the same until 2020. Dexter Carter became the next in 1995, followed by Jerry Rice and Micah Ross (2004), as well as Will Witherspoon (2009), Will Allen (2013), Damon Harrison (2018) and Emmanuel Sanders (2019). This year, hundreds of players will do the same, thus following in their footsteps.