NCAA: At a frame and stature now considered small by most teams in the NFL, Thomas was not your typical big, strong back or a speedster in his day running the 40-yard dash. He was not drafted in the 1st round and an injured knee prevented him from being selected high. Thomas did not standout as a “can’t miss talent” and he did not have the breakaway ability, as a homerun threat, so to say. But that did not stop him from becoming one of the more prolific backs in the NCAA. Thomas came out of the same school as Barry Sanders did (Oklahoma State) and kept Sanders on the sidelines most of the time, including a brilliant performance in which he turned in against West Virginia, when he went for 157 yards on four scores in a 35-33 victory in 1987. He was a 1st team All American in ’85 and ’87, and he rushed for a total of 4,595 yards on 897 carries, for 43 touchdowns, as he went over the century mark 21 times in his collegiate career.
NFL Fame: Thurman Thomas had an illustrious career in the NFL for the Buffalo Bills from 1988-1999, and he played one year with Miami in 2000. Though he played shortly for the Dolphins, Thomas retired as a Buffalo Bill in 2001. Interestingly, Thomas was not only famous on the gridiron but in the eyes of many video game junkies, who competed in tournaments, and was said to be absolutely unstoppable in the highly played Nintendo game Tecmo Super Bowl. The Bills were a team everyone wanted use and often times banned because Thurman’s computerized counterpart was so good it gave the user of the Bills an unfair advantage. The Champion, like many teams going against Thomas on the football field, reiterated, “Ain’t no stoppin’ me…. Ain’t no stoppin Thurman T!” Though his team lost four Super Bowls in a row, Thomas’ career was not affected by the losses, as he was the key part to a successful Bills team. He did it all, and was a main factor in the passing game and as a tough to tackle RB in Buffalo’s “K-Gun” No-Huddle Offense. The team clicked on all cylinders because of Thomas’ role of being the RB, having his hands on the ball 30-35 times a game.
NFL Stats/Records: Thomas was the AFC rushing leader in 1990, 1991, and 1993. He was voted to the All-Pro team in 1990 and 1991, was selected to 5 straight Pro Bowls from 1989-1993, and was voted NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1991, en route to becoming the 11th player in NFL history to finish a season with over 2,000 all-purpose yards. His best show came when he entertained the fans to a Thurman-esque type of clinic in the AFC title game prior to the Super Bowl. In the Bills 30-13 win over Kansas City, he rushed for 186 yards, caught 2 passes for 22 yards, and scored 3 touchdowns. Currently, he is 12th on the NFL all-time list for most rushing yards in a career. Thomas currently has the all-time Buffalo Bills rushing record with 11,938 yards and the team record for yards from scrimmage with 16,532. He is also 4th overall in team scoring. Overall, Thomas finished his 13 seasons with 12,074 rushing yards, 472 receptions for 4,458 yards, and 88 touchdowns (65 rushing and 23 receiving). Thomas is the only player in NFL history to lead the league in total yards from scrimmage for four consecutive seasons. Thomas shares a place with an Elite Company of RB’s, as he is one of only five backs to have over 400 receptions and 10,000 yards rushing. Walter Payton, Marshall Faulk, Marcus Allen, and Tiki Barber are the other four. Thomas is also one of four running backs to have rushed for over 1,000 yards in 8 straight seasons along with Curtis Martin, Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith. Thomas also set NFL playoff records with the most career points (126), touchdowns (21), and consecutive playoff games with a touchdown (9). Overall, he rushed for 1,442 yards and caught 76 passes for 672 yards in his 21 postseason games. In a 1989 playoff loss to Cleveland, Thomas recorded 13 receptions for 150 yards and 2 touchdowns, which was a postseason record for receptions by a running back and tied tight end Kellen Winslow’s record for most receptions in a playoff game. He is also the first player ever to score a touchdown in 4 consecutive Super Bowls.
Place in History: He was “Mr. January” at times, as he came through in the clutch when the team needed him the most. Thomas was one of my favorite backs to watch as a young kid and I knew he’d also put on a clinic. Thurman was one of the best-balanced, complete backs of all-time. He does not have the rings he desired to have but he helped his team make four straight Super Bowl appearances. Thomas was one of the best backs, a Top 10 RB, to ever play in the NFL. He could block, catch, run, and have an impact on the game each and every Sunday. Thurman Thomas will be remembered for his spectacular play on the gridiron and also for his calm personality, (putting aside SB XVI blunder) and humbled attitude, that made him a very well liked individual with a good demeanor, on and off the field. Thomas gave it his all and truly left everything out on the field for the Buffalo Bills, his coaches, and the fans ultimately, as one of the best players at any position to ever play the game for the NFL.
Click Below to hear new fellow Hall of Famer Michael Irvin joke around with Thomas: