Thurman Thomas is nervous.
He won’t be playing a game and there will be nothing but praise for his performance, but he admitted with a smile he has butterflies about his jersey retirement ceremony Monday night. It will be the spotlight event during halftime at New Era Field when the Bills host the Patriots.
The speech was written last week and he thinks he’ll be emotional, but ok to deliver.
“Once I get out there and see the field and see the players and see all the crazy Buffalo Bills fans, I’ll be more relaxed,” Thomas said.
Thomas’ number 34 will become the third Bills jersey number put away permanently, joining number 12 and number 78.
“For me, it ranks right up there with the Hall of Fame,” Thomas said. “Having your jersey retired with Jim Kelly and Bruce Smith, not a lot of people have the opportunity to get that done. For me to sit up here and say that 34 will never be issued again, nobody can ask for it. They won’t even be able to find it. You know what? That makes it all special.”
Thomas made sure to thank the Pegulas for the honor, despite all of his touchdowns and yards coming under different ownership.
“They realize what I did on the field and, hopefully, what I did off the field to help people,” Thomas said. “I love the Buffalo Bills. I could choose to live anywhere I wanted to, but I choose to live here. I have always done whatever I can to help this organization and even though it has switched ownerships, I will still continue to do that.”
Thomas wanted number 34 because that was the number worn by Earl Campbell and Walter Payton.
He got to meet Payton in the Bears locker room when the Bills played in Chicago during Thomas’ rookie season. He sees Earl Campbell every summer at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Both players know how much Thomas idolized them.
“Growing up in Texas, Earl Campbell was my guy. He was my guy at the University of Houston and once he got drafted by the Houston Oilers, I was already a fan. When he went from 20 in college to number 34, I was like, ‘Oh, I’m all in now. When I play football, this is the number that I’m going to wear’,” Thomas said.
“When Walter Payton came in, his training thing that he did during the offseason. Running hills, doing a lot of wind sprints and things of that nature. I just started following those footsteps.”
Over the summer, Thomas tweeted in response to a fan asking about the knee brace he wore in a photo from his Oklahoma State playing days. Thomas revealed that the brace was supporting a mostly torn ACL and that he played with the injury throughout his NFL career.
“I tore my ACL at a pickup game at Oklahoma State. A basketball game. I didn’t even want to go to. My friends kinda talked me into it,” Thomas said. “I had about 80 to 85 percent of my ACL torn, but I had to wear a special brace for it that kept my knee intact and my ligaments intact. I wore that for my junior year all the way until I retired. It really helped… I couldn’t live without it.”
Thomas never regretted not having surgery because it would have likely meant missing an entire season of football.
“I was born to play football. I was born to play running back and that’s what I did.”
Thomas says his number 34 will not only hang at New Era Field for him, but for all the great number 34’s in Bills history that came before him. That especially includes Cookie Gilchrist.
But, there will be only one name on the jersey and only one name that belongs on it. That name is “Thomas”.