Thurman Thomas Enshrinement Speech Transcript

MARV LEVY: My most vivid memory of Thurman Thomas actually was draft day when we first picked him in 1988. In the first round, we couldn't pick a running back which we wanted. There was some guy there in the second round named Thurman Thomas that we picked. Wow.

Once we were in training camp we said, I like this guy's work ethic. I like the way he moves. Every running play in scrimmage where he was the ball carrier, he would take it all the way, run it into the end zone. Even if it was a non contact drill. It said something to his teammates.

Everybody always asks about a running back, is he fast, elusive? He had one other quality which I think every other great running back has, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, was balance, fantastic balance. If you ran into him you didn't knock him down, you moved him over.

Thurman had a magnificent performance. Had we won it, there's no question he would have been named as the MVP of the game.

The 1991 season will be looked at as probably that was the top of his statistical production. So people will remember that. It meant something to our team and to the city. His teammates reveled in the fact he was the MVP.

Thurman Thomas led the NFL in yards from scrimmage for four consecutive seasons. That is a record that still stands. 1991, National Football League MVP. For two straight years he had more than 2000 total yards. Remarkable. Eight consecutive one thousand yard rushing seasons. He went to the Pro Bowl on five different occasions.

Thurman had that physical toughness. But he also had great mental toughness. As a running back, he played extra games season after season after season. He was the brunt of our running attack. It's remarkable the durability he showed. There was a real question about whether he was ever going to hold up enough for him to be a viable NFL prospect, let alone future Hall of Famer.

I just was aglow. I don't know if I was any more excited than at that moment. Right there when I gave Thurman one of those bear hugs, he reared back a little bit and said, How about you being my presenter? How honored I was.

When Thurman Thomas is inducted into the Hall of Fame, I think I'll be experiencing a lot of the same glow that I know he will be experiencing. Thurman will be joining a very elite group, and he certainly deserves to do so.

(End of video presentation.)

MARV LEVY: Thank you very much.

You know, 20 years ago today, neither I nor hardly anybody else in Buffalo knew who that fella sitting over there was. And several months later, on draft day 1988 when our Buffalo Bills were in dire need of an outstanding running back, we found ourselves in the forlorn position of not having a first round draft choice.

Well, when our turn to pick finally came, seven running backs had already been selected. Well, I'll tell you, I was disheartened. But our running backs coach, the always astute Elijah Pitts, was elated. The one he had hoped for all along was still available.

Well, that prospect that Elijah coveted so much was about five feet nine inches tall, weighed less than 200 pounds, and was still laboring to recover from a very severe knee injury. Elijah was ardently persuasive, however, stressing not only this fella's abilities, but he assured me as well that the man was a team player, a person of high character.

Well, what the heck, I said, let's take a long shot chance on this guy. What did you say his name was again, Eli? Well, it didn't take me or anyone else who loves NFL football very long to learn that his name was Thurman Thomas.

How lucky could a coach get? How lucky could his teammates get? I must admit, however, that just two weeks after the beginning of training camp that rookie year, I did seek a clarification from Elijah. Eli, I asked, Did you say this guy has character or that he is a character? Well, our coaches and players soon learned that both descriptions applied.

Yeah, this man could really play, and he was fun, too. Unless, of course, you had to play defense against him, then he wasn't.

Most of all he contributed immensely to that fantastic team mentality that was so representative of the Buffalo Bills during Thurman's playing days there. Possessing a bubbling and extroverted personality, he was one of the most unselfish players I have ever known. On a team with many stars, never did I hear a complaint from him about "not getting the ball enough," or about being taken out of the game even down at the goal line.

I also don't believe there has ever been a more complete player at his position than Thurman. Yes, he reigns today as the Bills all time leader in rushing yards, in rushing touchdowns, in thousand yard plus seasons, in hundred yard or more rushing games. He caught more career touchdown passes than the seven players picked ahead of him combined during their playing career.

Amazingly he ranks number three all time in pass receptions on the Buffalo Bills behind only two wide receivers, and that includes number one, Andre Reed, who someday I am confident will also be sitting on this hallowed platform here in Canton.

Those are just a few samples of Thurman's eye popping rushing and passing statistics. But beyond that, as a running back smaller than most, there cannot ever have been a better, smarter or more courageous pass protector. Just ask Jim Kelly and Frank Reich about that. Today Thurman's wonderful family is here to share this happy occasion with him. His father, Thurman, Sr., his sweet mother, Ann, his lovely wife Patti, and their four beautiful children have all been an integral part of our Buffalo Bills family. I can understand so well the pride and affection they must be experiencing here today.

All of them, too, will forever be part of the legacy that endures as a result of Thurman's prodigious exploits. Look it up, Thurman, prodigious (laughter).

As I stand here today, I am so proud to be able to say that I coached this young man. It is my great honor now to present to all of you assembled here and to all of the football loving world for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, from the Buffalo Bills, No. 34, Thurman Thomas.

THURMAN THOMAS: Wow. Can I start by saying God bless America.

When I think back on my career, a quote comes from a famous book that comes to my mind. It's not about me. My career was successful and I was able to stand here today because a host of people that contributed to that success.

First and foremost, thank you, God, for blessing me with the talent to receive this award. And thank you to the Hall of Fame and the voters for making it come to pass. Thank you very much.

Ralph Wilson, wow. Mr. Wilson, you made all this possible. You treat your players like friends. You treat them with respect, not like expendable merchandise. Everyone has probably heard that Ralph and I are like family. He refers to me as his adopted son, and I refer to him as my adopted father. One prayer is that we all see my brother one day up here on this podium in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Thank you, Ralph. You are the greatest owner a player could have. God bless you, Mary, Ralph, your entire family.

Bill Polian. Congratulations to Bill Polian, Indianapolis Colts, for winning the Super Bowl. You took a chance on me. You designed a whole plan that allowed this to happen. You handpicked a group of guys that became friends, teammates and warriors. I thank you for that. I bet you never thought back when what a priceless deal you negotiated by putting all of us knuckleheads together. Thanks to John Butler for helping out with the cause, too.

Marv, contrary to the misconceptions that you may have regarding my expansive vocabulary, or lack thereof, I believe that all these years you have made me confused with someone else, and that person would be Bruce (laughter). Sorry, Bruce, I really didn't mean to throw you under the bus, but you have come up with some doosies over the years. In the words of Bruce, That's water under the dam. Love you, Bruce.

But for real, Marv, you are my inspiration. I wanted to play my best because I never wanted to disappoint you. You made me feel like every extra effort I made for the Bills was appreciated. Marv, I remember my first game against the Houston Oilers, against the Minnesota Vikings, I spiked the ball. When I came over to the sideline, you had this look in your eye like you were very upset at me. You grabbed me by my jersey and said, Why did you spike the ball? I said, Coach, every little kid that ever watches football at least wants to do that at least one time in his career. He said, Well, that's great, don't ever do it again. Act like you've been there before. After that, I never spiked the ball again. So thank you, Marv.

Elijah Pitts, you are definitely here with me today. You've always been there with me since 1988 until the day you walked into that gym in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and said, Thurman Thomas, there's a bunch of us guys playing basketball. You heard dead silence. I'm Elijah Pitts from the Buffalo Bills. I played with the Green Bay Packers and Vince Lombardi. Quickly I raised my hand. I said, Here I am, coach, right here.

I know Eli, if he were alive today, would definitely be a head coach in the National Football League. If he was, I can definitely sit up here and say that I would probably be still in the National Football League coaching because I would have loved to have been Elijah Pitts' running back. To Elijah Pitts, his family, thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to treat me like family.

To Pat Jones, my head coach in college, had it not been for you rushing me over those four years 30 to 40 and sometimes 40 to 50 times a game, I might have played more than 13 years (smiling). Thank you very much for having faith in me in my last two years, because there was another talented running back that played at Oklahoma State, Barry Sanders, Detroit Lions, once again, who really taught me the meaning of hard work and dedication to try to be the best player that you possibly can.

To Bill Shimmick, my running back coach, thank you for letting me be the player, not changing my running style, just let me be the offensive player I was.

To Neil Querlan, my high school football coach back in Missouri City, Texas. Won the state championship with you, coach. Thank you for everything you did for me. I know you're here out in the stands somewhere. Thank you very much. I love you.

Teammates. Wow, I can go on and on. Jim Kelly, Kent Hull, Cornelius Bennett, Reuben Brown, Darryl Talley, Pete Metzelaars, Shane Conlan, Kenny Davis, Leonard Smith, John Davis, John Fina, John Kidd, Adam Lingner, Chris Moore, Scott Norwood, Nate Odomes, Glen Parker, Marlow Perry, Mark Pike, future Hall of Famer Andre Reed, Sam Rogers, future Hall of Famer Bruce Smith, Frank Reich, Butch Rolle, and Will Wolford, and also Ted Washington, the greatest teammates a family could ever have, thank you.

To the Bills staff, Abe, Ho Joe, Woody and Bud. Bills trainers that kept me healthy. You always sent me out well equipped, except for that one time where you played tricks on me with my helmet.

And friends from out of town, thanks to new friends and long time friends. My Buffalo people, Houston, Oakland, Tucson, Arkansas, Orlando, Virginia, Miami, West Palm, Sarasota, Dallas and South Carolina. You have come all from over everywhere to be with me and my family. We love you all and feel your presence. I can't thank you enough for spending your precious time and money to celebrate with me here today.

In case you don't know it, I grew up an only child. I met a girl at Oklahoma State and fell in love and gained a giant new family. My bother in laws Matt, Bobby, Dave and John. My wonderful sister in law Mickie. My in laws who were commonly referred to as the outlaws. My nieces an nephews, you all came and supported me every home game. You hugged me and loved me win or lose. I may play with you a lot, but I just didn't gain in laws back then in 1987, I gained a loving, supportive family, especially my father in law Bob and my mother in law Pat. I love you both. Thank you. Thank you for treating me and loving me like a son and not just a celebrity.

I will be remiss today if I did not completely thank all of our troops here in the States and abroad. You have relentlessly fought for our freedom and our safety. You are all my heroes. God bless you all and bless those of you who lost your lives fighting for our freedom and safety.

Growing up in Houston, I came from a football family. My dad, Thurman, Sr., my uncle Grady, and all my cousins that played. In seventh grade I immediately had a huge support. My dad, my step mom Mary, aunts and uncles on the Thomas and Cavanaugh sides were always there cheering for me. I love you all.

My step dad Gil, who passed away five years ago. Wow, do I miss him. I know he's here today with me. He's one of the greatest sportsfans ever. I miss the conversations we had every Sunday evening following the football games.

My grandmother, Jessie Mae Thomas. I know you're here with me today also.

To all my stepbrothers and stepsisters on the Cockle and Johnson side, I love you all. Big Nanny, Lavelle, you went that extra length to support me. Sherlynn, Chrissy. If I forgot anyone, know that it's not intentional. It's really, really scary up here. All my nieces and nephews in Houston, I love you guys all. My grandmother, Dorothy Cavanaugh, I can still see you prancing around the stadiums at all my games because you were too nervous to sit in your seat. You can stay seated today, baby, because it's all good.

My mom. I love you, mom. You've been my biggest fan since I was just a little guy. Not once did you ever miss anything, even if I made you mad. You still washed my jerseys, went to games, cheered for me, showed me the meaning of unconditional love. You have made me grow from a child to the man. Even when I didn't want to grow up. I love you with all my heart.

Someone once told me I needed to enjoy every minute of my football career because when it ended I would miss it. I look at all of you today and every memory comes back. The memories are amazing, of a time when teammates were like brothers, regardless of race, religion or politics, we all got in trouble just because how close we were. The wives didn't completely understand our camaraderie, which I think at least now most of them do. Carmen, Jeanine, Kim, Kay, Jill, Cindy, at least I hope you all do.

With those memories lay dormant in everyday reminders, that fantastic run that are not in front of me, to feel that rush again, I just walk through the front doors of my house and see Olivia, my oldest daughter. When she comes home from school, my little University of Florida Gator, with her amazing heart and sense of responsibility, I'm sure her little brother and two sisters know that they couldn't have been blessed with a more loving and outstanding role model.

To Angel, my free spirited, beautiful, kind hearted comedian. If Angel can't brighten your day, make you smile, then you have to be a pretty tough cookie. I can be madder than a junkyard dog and she can make me laugh. I love you, Angel Pie.

My 10 year old sweet little Annika Lee. We wanted a boy so bad that we were blessed again with another girl. All I can say is thank you, God, for giving us that little girl. She is growing up to be just as lovely and beautiful as her sister. Annika Lee, I love you baby.

Last but not least we decided to give it one more try. We prayed hard and we finally got our little man, Thurman III. He is everything that we had dreamed for, a blend of all five of us. Little Thurman, daddy loves you, man. Alright.

To my wife Patti, what a design only God could have planned. I was a senior at Oklahoma State when I met a freshman golfer from Buffalo, New York. We dated my senior year. I got drafted to her hometown of Buffalo, New York. That's been almost 20 years. I sit here today and I say thank you, Patti, my friend, my wife, my mother, mother of my kids. It's been 20 years since we've been together, and I would like to take this time and this opportunity to let it be another 20 years we can spend together, but also with the plan of asking you, Will you marry me again? I love you.

In closing, to the fans of Buffalo, every guy has probably stood up here in all of these Hall of Fame jackets and said they probably have had the best fans in the world supporting them. I'm here to say that's hogwash. No fans are like my fans, like Bills fans. You were all out there freezing, spending hard earned money to cheer us on. You guys are the best.

I don't know how to thank you for the support our team has shown over the years. It was a ride that none of us will ever forget, a ride we would all probably love to hop back on. Unfortunately, we can't buy tickets for that ride any more, but we will always have those memories. To the city of Buffalo, to the Buffalo Bills organization, I love you. Thank you very much.

 

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