'Family man' Thurman Thomas speaks at local Catholic School

Annie Allison

Who is the “Thurmanator”?

Is he the football player from Oklahoma State who led the NFL in total yards from scrimmage a record four consecutive seasons while with the Buffalo Bills? The NFL’s most valuable player in 1991, who was selected for five consecutive Pro Bowls and then the Hall of Fame in 2007?

The answers to all these questions — yes.

However, if you ask Thurman Thomas to describe himself, a different answer emerges. Thomas calls himself “a family man, not a football player.”

Thomas delivered this message Sunday afternoon as he spoke at Holy Family Catholic School in Dansville.

“We invited him because he’s a family man,” said event head Jennifer Bruschafer. “We wouldn’t want to bring someone in who wasn’t. We wanted to teach core values — what’s most important in life, that it’s not just about being a Hall of Famer, it’s about being the best person you can be. He represents what we wanted our children to see.”

Thomas ,the all-time Buffalo Bills rusher with 11,938 yards (1988-89) and fourth overall in team scoring, has been living in Buffalo since August with his wife and three of his children, while one is off at college.

Thomas vocalized the difficulties he’s always had balancing a family life with the demanding schedule of the National Football League.

“It’s tough,” he said during a question and answer session Sunday. “You’re gone all the time at work, my only day off was Tuesday.”

When asked if he would ever consider coaching, Thomas responded, “I decided that when I retire, the one thing I will not do is coach,” because it is too time consuming.

The former Bills running back began the day with a 45-minute talk with students and faculty of Holy Family, highlighting the importance of hard work.

“I was basically telling the kids the importance of listening to their parents, letting them lead them in the right direction, staying off computer and Playstation,” said Thomas on his meeting with the kids. “I told them whatever you decide to do in life, just make sure you work hard at it, and I was talking to the girls specifically if they wanted to play sports. There’s a lot of athletic scholarships for girls if they want to play a sport.”

Thomas also discussed the hard work it took for him to even get to the NFL.

According to Thomas, when he was at Willowridge High School in Houston, Texas, he was not the best on the team.

“I was basically the littlest guy on the football team, but I?had the drive and the determination to make it. There were probably five to six guys who were better than me on high school team, but I hung around good people who taught me how to perform, on and off the field.”

Thomas went on to say that athletes who want to play at the next level need to chase their dreams, not wait for them to fall into their laps.

”It was just a wonderful experience for the school kids,” said Bruschafer after the event. “It’s nice to know that successful people like him can make such leaps and bounds.

“It was wonderful for my children,” continued Bruschafer, whose kids attend Holy Family.  “When he was in high school, there were other, better kids that didn’t have drive, passion and commitment that he had. To think he grew up in a small town just like ours and you can be anything you want to be, you just have to want it bad enough.”

The story behind the acquisition of such a big name football star goes back months and months.

“It’s always been in the top of our minds and finally parents got together and said, let’s do something really cool. It’s about the kids, what we can do with the kids. Who can you get? A basketball, football or baseball star? It always came back to Thurman Thomas.”

The former No. 34 is also active in the local life of Buffalo, where he owns and runs the Thurman Thomas sports facilities, located in Elma and Depew.

“The facilities are for football, baseball soccer, every single sport,” said Thomas. “They give training to athletes with dieticians, leadership skills, everything you need to succeed. It also helps to get kids thinking about going to college. We can all help each other to achieve a goal.

“It’s great to come to a small town,” said Thomas. “That’s where you find a lot of loving, caring people.”

He added that the sense of family and close-knit community found in a small town reflect the type of relationship felt by the Buffalo Bills back in the “glory days”.

“After losing four Super Bowls, you have to stick together. I’ll tell you what — it was the best 0-4 in my life. What I?miss most about football is always knowing I could see the guys, all 47 of them at one time in one room. I truly miss that.

 “Some of the players now, it’s all about endorsements. When I played, it was all about trying to do whatever it takes to win a football game. Andre (Reed), Jim (Kelly) and I all could have whined about our contracts, but Bruce (Smith) was the only one we let cry about his contract,” he joked.

Without even being asked, Thomas went on to clarify the Scott Norwood situation. Norwood famously missed a 47-yard field goal with eight seconds left in Super Bowl XXV, a kick which would have given Buffalo the title.

“We had players that knew the game of football,” said Thomas. “No player on that team would ever blame Scott Norwood for what happened. 35-40 players from that team play in Jim Kelly’s Florida golf tournament, and Scott Norwood is always on the list. We went as a team, we lose as a team. We just never put together a full game.”

Other answers to questions from the crowd included Thomas stating that he was his favorite Buffalo Bill, Ronnie Lock hit the hardest and that his greatest moment in the NFL was actually two instances: being drafted by the Bills and signing a one-day contract with them (after one season with rival Miami Dolphins) so that he could retire as a Buffalo Bill.

The very last question of the day produced a groan and a smile from the former running back. “I thought I would get out of here before I?heard that question,” he said, when asked about the Bills playing in Toronto. “If I had the money, I’d buy the Bills and keep them here, but the real people that should be mad is the New Orleans Saints. With all the rebuilding they’re trying to do, they are scheduled to play a game in London. The league does the scheduling, don’t be mad at the Bills.”

Among his other accomplishments, Thomas shares the record for touchdowns by a Buffalo Bill (87), finished his 13 seasons with 12,740 rushing yards, 472 receptions for 4,458 yards and 16,532 all-purpose yards.

His hometown is currently planning to build the Thurman Thomas Stadium.

By the sports community, he is remembered as one of the top complete running backs of all time. To those who saw him in Dansville on Sunday, he will be remembered as much more.

The Evening Tribune