VERNON — Going from a small town in Texas to the National Football League, Pro Football Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas made the most of his opportunity when the Buffalo Bills took a chance on him.
“It means a lot to me,” Thomas said of the Buffalo Bills drafting him, “They (Buffalo) took a chance on a kid coming out of college with a bum knee supposedly and it’s meant the world to me.”
An injury to Thomas’ knee while playing in college at Oklahoma State made him fall out of the first round of the 1988 NFL draft, and Buffalo took him in the second round with the No. 40 pick. Thomas went on to be a part of a high-powered Buffalo offense that featured quarterback Jim Kelly and wide receiver Andre Reed. The team rode the offense to the Super Bowl four consecutive years.
Thomas was the guest of honor at the 15th annual Legends of the Game dinner on May 8 at the Cannery Barn. Formerly known as the Legends of the Diamond, the event is a major fundraiser for the Rome Lions and Lake Delta Kiwanis clubs.
In his first three seasons in the NFL, Thomas had 12 games of at least 100 yards rushing and in those 12 games, the Bills were undefeated. In 1990, 1991 and 1993, Thomas led the AFC in rushing yards. In 1989 and 1990, his combined yardage from scrimmage was 3,742. Thomas was voted to the All-Pro team in 1990 and 1991 and was voted to five straight Pro Bowls from 1989-1993. Thomas was the NFL MVP in 1991.
“Being a part of that offense was great. It was dynamic, it was different and it was something a lot of teams had never seen before,” Thomas explained.
“But Jim, Andre and myself were just sort of the people that got all of the recognition because it was a high-powered offense. But, to be honest with you, the guys that did it best were the guys up front. That offensive line did a great job. In the offense that we ran, they had to run block and they had to pass block.”
Center Kent Hull and guard Jim Ritcher were two of the standout linemen who played alongside Thomas in Buffalo.
Thomas holds the all-time Buffalo Bills rushing record with 11,938 yards and the team record for yards from scrimmage with 16,279 over 12 years. In his 13-year career, Thomas finished with 12,074 rushing yards and 4,458 receiving yards and 88 touchdowns including 65 rushing and 23 receiving. Thomas is in with elite company as he is one of six running backs who have over 10,000 rushing yards and 400 receptions. He joins Walter Payton, Marshall Faulk, Marcus Allen, Tiki Barber and LaDainian Tomlinson.
Thomas also said that the “Bills Mafia” are the best. “Coming from a place like Texas where I played high school football, they’ve (the fans) always greeted us with open arms. The fans have been great here, throughout the years that I’ve played.”
The former second-round pick has high hopes for the Bills this season as he spoke highly about Buffalo’s top two picks from the draft held April 26-28.
“We got good football players because of where they were at in the draft,” Thomas said. “We moved up from No. 12 to No. 7 in order to draft someone that they’ve had their eye on, Josh Allen. They moved up because they believe that he’s going to be great for the franchise. Then they go get Tremaine Edmunds later on.
“Those are two dynamic players that we’ve kind of talked about to lead this franchise for the next 10 or 15 years. Those two guys will stand out because they’re first round draft picks.”
As far as a prediction goes about the Bills’ upcoming season, he says that he believes that the Bills will be back in the postseason.
“They made the playoffs last year, so I’m thinking that they’re going to make the playoffs again this year!” Thomas predicted. “Every year I go in not really knowing how everything is going to work, but I know the schedule is a little bit tougher but they’ve added better football players to their team so that should make them tougher, that should make them better and able to compete.”