Thurman Thomas is getting his due. Already elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007 and into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008, for some reason Thomas had not yet seen his name and number honoured in Buffalo by the Bills.
But that will change as of Monday.
In a ceremony on Oct. 29 at New Era Field prior to the Bills Monday night home game vs. the New England Patriots, Thomas will become the third Bills player in franchise history to have his No. 34 retired. Thomas will join teammates Jim Kelly (No. 12) and Bruce Smith (No. 78), members of the Bills teams that won four consecutive AFC Championships while capturing the imagination of Western New York And Southern Ontario fans in the early 1990s.
This season alone, 13,000 Bills tickets have been purchased by Canadian fans, while over 5,000 seats at New Era Field are owned by Canadian season ticket holders. Nearly 100,000 Canadians follow the Bills on social media and so it was only fitting that Thomas made a trip north to thank the Canadian contingent of Bills fans in person prior to Monday night in Buffalo.
Sportsnet.ca: What was your relationship with Canada when you were playing for the Bills?
Thurman Thomas: You know even back in our time, there were a number of guys including myself, Bruce Smith, Andre Reed, we would come over here across the border into Toronto, to spend the night or to go to a baseball game or to go to a ball game.
We’ve always enjoyed our time over here in Toronto, and I’m sure the players today do, I’ve seen LeSean McCoy had a couple other guys over here with him. We know how important the fanbase is over here in Canada because they come over the border a lot to watch us play. The Canadian Bills fans are among the best in the NFL.
SN: You are being honoured by the team. That’s rarefied air. What’s that like for you to have your number retired by the franchise?
TT: I didn’t play for Kim or Terry Pegula, the owners of the Buffalo Bills. For them to approach me before the season started and tell me that they were going to retire my number and again, these are owners who I’ve never played for, that’s something special. So it’ll be a special night Monday night, you know for me and my friends my family and everybody that’s coming in.
SN: How has the game changed since you played?
TT: I think it’s changed because you know, it really has become quarterback driven only. I mean, everybody’s looking for the next guy to come in and be the next you know, Tom Brady, Dan Marino, Drew Brees, which I think will never happen. I think they’re taking the initiative to say, g’o get the guys who throw the ball. If you don’t have that great quarterback it’s easier to try and have a great running game to help the quarterback but they want a quarterback to throw for 5,000, 4,000 yards every single year.
SN: Quarterback depth has been an issue in the league and it has impacted the Bills. Do you think Colin Kaepernick will get another shot?
TT: Well, I’m not quite sure if he’ll get a shot again. You know, he took a strong stance against what he believed in and brought that into the National Football League. You can see right now that a lot of owners and a lot of teams are not, you know, not trying to call him or pick him up. I know for sure that there’s a lot of quarterbacks in the league that are back-ups throughout the National Football League that Colin Kaepernick is better than, a lot. But as you can see they are not calling him but I think the guy can play.
SN: What’s changed that has made NFL players so active on social justice issues now in relation to when you played?
TT: Because you have so much social media. I mean, if we were talking about something that happened 20 years ago, we didn’t have all the social media for it to get out. Now you do have that and guys argue that because everybody else is doing it and voicing their opinions they should be able to do it.
SN: In Canada, cannabis is legal and the CFL has talked about players using cannabinoids to help with their injuries so they don’t have to use opioids. It’s actually something that many NFL players have talked about wanting to see happen. Do you see that as being something that might happen?
TT: I have no idea. You know it was 15-20 years ago that the league would never be associated with gambling, right? That’s changed. If it makes money and makes the game safer and all of these wonderful things I think it probably will be on the table. I just don’t know how quickly it will come into the National Football League.
SN: How do you want Bills fans to remember you?
TT: The Bills fans all around the world, just remember me as the guy who went out on the football field I gave my all every single play, every year. I was with the Buffalo Bills for 12 years and you know, it just wasn’t always about football with me. I was a family guy but I also love helping out in the community. It’s one of those things where when my time comes I just want to remember as the guy who helped a lot of people.