THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, we have Thurman on the line. We'll open it up for questions.
What is the progress of your enshrinement speech? Have you got a theme to it?
Yeah, I do have a little theme to it that starts it off. Doing the finishing touches on it right now.
I talked to Marv Levy and he completed his about two months ago. I'm right on the verge of completing it. They told me I had eight to 10 minutes. I'm at about eight and a half minutes right now.
You had some tremendous ups in your career and also some tremendous downs in your career. You never seemed to be swayed either way when things happened. Can you talk about your consistency throughout everything that happened to you in your career and how you were able to keep that consistency going.
I think that having a coach like Coach Levy, having guys like Jim Kelly and Bruce Smith on your team, there were a lot of ups in my career and there were a lot of downs. But you know what, I'm the type of person, you know, that I believe when you do fail, it makes you a stronger person, makes you a stronger individual.
Yes, I wish I could have performed well in the last three Super Bowls, but I didn't. It's not going to take away from what I did accomplish. I've always said that it's a team sport. I know after every game there are always media people who point out this guy lost the game, that guy lost the game. Look at Scott Norwood. Everybody said he lost the game. You know what, it's a team sport. I think we could have done things to help him. I could have done some things to help myself in the last three Super Bowls.
I have a very, very strong mind. I never let that stuff get to me. It definitely made me a stronger person.
Can you talk about motivation, especially being passed by all those teams in the draft and getting picked 40th? There were six or seven running backs ahead of you. How much of an incentive was that for you to show every time you carried the football that those teams made a mistake, at least early in your career?
It was early on in my career. Once I was coming out of Oklahoma State, a lot of people, the Rams, the Falcons, the Saints, the Houston Oilers were talking to me a lot about taking me in the first round. When they didn't, I just kind of said to myself, “You know what, once I get to the National Football League, I'm going to use that as my motivational tool my first year.
I had a pretty decent rookie year. As a team, we got to the AFC championship and I almost gained 1,000 yards. I think it's already known I used to watch the tape every Saturday night of when I got picked. I did that my rookie year. But after that I kind of just let it go and thought that I had to prove myself a little bit more by doing a lot of different things.
I wasn't known as a receiver coming out of Oklahoma State, just basically a runner. I knew I had the skills to catch the ball out of the backfield and catch the ball down field. I just kind of used that as a motivational tool my first year.
Going into my second year, I just said, “Hey, you know what, forget that. Let me just focus on what I have to do to help the Buffalo Bills win.” If it had not been for Robb Riddick getting hurt, the Buffalo Bills probably never would have known I was able to catch the ball as well as I did coming out of the backfield or going down field catching the ball.
You were a great blitz picker-upper. Talk about that. You did that as well as any back in the history of the game.
I think all that stuff was taught to me by one person. I think you have to have a determination. You have to have the will to want to stick your head in there and pick up a linebacker that may outweigh you by 45 or 50 pounds. That all was taught to me by one guy, my former running back coach who passed away, Elijah Pitts. He used to tell me how he used to do it when he was with the Green Bay Packers, what Vince Lombardi taught him.
I used to tell myself that I'm not the strongest guy in the world, but he said you have to use very good technique. The technique I used, I got my hands on the defender first, I got my hands on the linebacker first to where I could grab and hold on. It definitely helped me throughout my career.
You go up against guys like Darryl Talley, Shane Conlan, Cornelius Bennett, three different kinds of pass‑rushers when they rushed the quarterback, I think that helped me throughout my career of what I need to do, to watch film on picking up linebackers from the Colts or the Patriots. Like I said, having those three guys helped me a lot and a lot of credit has to go to Elijah Pitts.
The Bills weren't sure if they were going to be take you. Ralph Wilson likes to say he kind of had the decisive vote on taking the guy. Has he shared that with you? Do you recall that? Are you aware of that?
Yes, I'm aware of that. As you know, Ralph and I go back a long ways. It was really Bill Polian's decision also. He had a big influence on me being picked by the Bills. Ralph said, “Is it a longshot. Is it a chance you have to take on him?” He said, “Life is about taking chances.” Bill Polian said, “Yes, it is.” That's when Ralph decided to take me.
I do really give a lot of credit to Bill Polian because he had the doctors look at me, check me out a couple times concerning my knee. It was really his choice. He gave his information to Ralph. Ralph said, “Okay, let's take him.” I guess you can say the rest is history.
You had such a great collection of individual talent but you also had some really headstrong guys. You kind of butted heads early on. Talk about how you kept that from becoming combustible and how you ended up thriving together and becoming a cohesive unit?
I think back in 1989 when we were known as the Bickering Bills, it started out by Jim Kelly saying something about Howard Ballard. Being a close friend of Howard, because we came in with the same class, I knew the type of person he was. Over the years, I knew Jim had said some things about players even when I wasn't there, back in '87 and '86. I felt like as a team, and I've always been a team player, that it shouldn't be that way. You shouldn't call out one individual.
I say to myself that I made a big mistake by calling Jim out on a television station instead of going to him and talking to him privately. Once I said that, Mr. Wilson and Bill Polian jumped in and we had the press conference there.
I think the relationship with myself and Jim got even stronger. It wasn't a bad relationship, but the relationship got even stronger. I talked to Jim about, “Hey, you know, we're a team. I know you're the quarterback and everybody expects you to do well. You're the leader of this football team, basically the face of the franchise, the face of the city of Buffalo, but as a team, we have to pull together and try to get this thing going.” We had so much talent and we had a lot of players that worked hard.
I think it came down to when we played Cleveland in the playoff game, the last play of the game. The film has it where a lot of the football players were holding hands on the sidelines. That really right there showed that, hey, we have the talent but we have to play as a unit, we have to play as a team.
I think after that '89 season, that loss to Cleveland in the playoffs, I think everybody kind of looked at the off‑season and said, “Hey, look, we have all the tools we need to take that extra step.” I think everybody worked their butt off and got up there during the off‑season. Come 1990 we went to our first championship.
The further removed you become from those four Super Bowl appearances, does the sting of losing the four of them kind of become lessened and you look back and say it was still something special because no team has yet to do that again?
Well, yeah, it was special. The Buffalo Bills were really kind of the doormat of the National Football League before then besides having O.J. Simpson and the Electric Company. It was very special to us. I wish we could have won one, but we didn't. But I think overall it's something that we're very, very proud of.
We wish we could have won at least one for the city of Buffalo, but it didn't work out. Now, as you can see, Marv Levy went in the Hall of Fame in 1999. Jim Kelly went in in 2001. I'm going in in 2007. Andre Reed should be in. Bruce Smith is probably going to be a first ballot Hall of Famer in 2009. Probably the greatest special teams player to ever play the game, Steve Tasker, should be in also.
I definitely think one person that should be in already is Ralph Wilson. He's done a lot to keep the team in Buffalo. He's done a lot for the fans. He's done a lot for the players to be in a weak market like they are. He's done a lot for the city of Buffalo and a lot for the Buffalo Bills organization.
I think it's just a great opportunity. Yes, we didn't win one, but it definitely put the Buffalo Bills on the map. I feel like whatever team comes out, they're going to have something to shoot for. Whatever team from here on out wins the Super Bowl will definitely be the best team in Bills history because we got so close but never got a chance to finish it.
After all you went through with the Buffalo Bills, have you sensed any kind of regret for not having played your entire career as a Bill?
No, not at all. That was really something that I really thought about over the years after I retired. The thing with me, I wanted to play my entire career with the Buffalo Bills. It didn't happen that way. I ended up going to the Miami Dolphins. Deep down inside, I knew I was always a Buffalo Bill. I came back to Buffalo, signed a one-day contract and retired as a Buffalo Bill.
I have no regrets about playing with Miami or leaving the Buffalo Bills the way I did. All of that is over with now. Yes, I'm going into the Hall of Fame now as a Buffalo Bill, not a Miami Dolphin. When I left Miami, I talked to a lot of players like Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas. Those guys said, “Yeah, you're a Buffalo Bill. You're just on our team right now to help us win and help these younger guys. If you do get a chance to go into the Hall of Fame, we all know around here you're going in as a Buffalo Bill.” That's the way it turned out.
Your choice of Marv Levy as your presenter, can you talk about what he meant to you and your career.
Well, without a doubt he was probably the most important person in my career throughout the National Football League. He was a guy that didn't scream, he didn't holler. He was a great motivator, a great historian, a great English major. Just a guy that I think if anybody in this world has a chance to sit down and talk to Marv for five or ten minutes, they should do it. I think overall they would learn a lot from Marv, not only as a great football coach but also a great person.
He's definitely the one that I always look forward to talking to. I look forward to talking to his wife Fran. It's just been an unbelievable stretch of 16, 17 years that I've known Marv now. The relationship will get better. I think that goes to show you why I picked Marv to present me into the Hall of Fame, because he's such a class guy. I think it's the same with Jim Kelly. I think whoever goes in as a Buffalo Bill will definitely have Marv at the top of his list.
What is your take on today's mentality in the NFL to go with two running backs?
THURMAN THOMAS: I think running backs now, they're probably going to be staying with teams four or five years, but I think you do have to have two running backs. I don't think I would have played as long as I did had I not had Kenny Davis. He saved my career by taking a lot of short-yardage and goal-line situations. When you're running a no huddle, you had to take breathers. Everybody had to take breathers.
It definitely helped me to prolong my career as a running back. I think nowadays you have guys who may rush for four thousand, five thousand yards straight in a row, but you're also going to have to have a back that's going to have to replace them. That's just the nature of the game. A lot of running backs, once they reach the age of 28, 29, 30, teams start looking for younger running backs. That's just how it goes now.
When you look at Cedric Benson with the Bears, I think they're going to regret losing Thomas Jones because I think you do need two players. One can go down, and then who are you going to look to after that?
It's definitely changed from when myself and Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders and those guys played. But I think it's better now because you're looking for a veteran running back. You're going to have a young guy who is going to come in and step up and probably take most of the carries these days.
You mentioned your speech is about eight and a half minutes. Does that mean you've read through it a couple times? Have you done that in front of your family to get early reviews?
I've done it on my own. I read through it a couple of times. Like I said, I'm not quite finished with it just yet, but I'm getting there.
Come Saturday, August 4th, I'll be prepared, ready to go. It's something I just want to sit down and really think about and just have a good time saying it. I know I'm probably going to be missing a lot of people that are not going to be in the speech. You know what, it's a speech that's going to last anywhere from eight and a half minutes to about nine minutes. Say what I have to say, get off, enjoy the rest of the day with my family.
Are you going to feel sad because the Bills will be remembered not as a great team but a team losing the Super Bowl?
People can say what they want to say, write what they want to write about the Buffalo Bills. We put Buffalo on the map. Whether you want to label us as losers or winners or what have you, there have been a lot of other teams that have never been to the Super Bowl. There have been a lot of other great players, individual players, that have never won a championship.
With saying that, you know what, I can't really complain about how my career went or how the Buffalo Bills career, the organization, went. I'm just happy and proud to be going into the Hall of Fame as a Buffalo Bill.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Thurman.
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