MINNEAPOLIS -- Thurman Thomas is hard to catch, but harder to satisfy.
Give him the national platform of a Super Bowl to showcase his considerable skills and Thomas wants to be the Most Valuable Player.
Give him the NFL's Most Valuable Player award and he wants the league's rushing title, too.
Give him a second crack at football's holy grail and he wants . . . more recognition.
Thomas, a Buffalo Bills running back, arrived here for Super Bowl XXVI this week talking "team." But it didn't take long before the four-year veteran had shifted to personal pronouns.
"I've got a lot of confidence in myself," he said during yesterday's interview session at the Metrodome, the site of Sunday's showdown with the Washington Redskins. "If I touch the ball 25, 30 times, we've got a better chance to win. If I don't touch the ball a lot, we might not have as good a chance to win."
Thomas feels undervalued by the nation's media, if not by the nation itself. He is not shy about letting you know that. He is not shy, either, about speculating on the reasons why he is not appreciated as he should be.
"Look how long it has taken you," he said, grinning at a crowd of reporters surrounding him. "Only one other person has done what I did this year -- lead the league in total yards from scrimmage for the third year in a row. And it took three years to get recognition. I don't understand that.
"I don't know if it's the small [media] market in Buffalo or that we've got a lot of celebrities on our team that it needs to be spread around or that people just don't look at the Buffalo Bills as having a respectable football team. I think I've been very deserving of the recognition I got this year, [but should have gotten it] a couple years ago."
This is no shrinking violet. This is the same player who, two years ago, put Bills quarterback Jim Kelly in his place after Kelly publicly criticized several of his Buffalo teammates. Thomas was in his second year with the team when he said the Bills needed better play at quarterback to win and charged that Kelly had played two "terrible ballgames" in consecutive losses. Thomas says now there are no hard feelings over that incident.
"Me and Jim never had a bad relationship," he said. "It was one of those situations where he was saying just a little too much about our teammates and I came to the front and said: 'Hey, Jim, you've got to stop that. We can't have that on our football team.' . . . Everybody knows, anything he says, the media is going to write it down and spread it all over the world. We had meetings about that, and the last two years we've been to the Super Bowl."
There can be no doubt Thomas is one of the NFL's brightest
stars. He rushed for 1,407 yards and averaged nearly 5 yards a carry this season. With 631 receiving yards, he led the NFL in total scrimmage yards (2,038) for the third consecutive season, matching a feat accomplished last by Jim Brown.
He has had three consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons and three consecutive Pro Bowl selections. But he has not won a league rushing title, and that grates on him. This season he finished third behind Emmitt Smith of Dallas and Barry Sanders of Detroit.
Thomas most likely would have won the rushing title if he had not injured an ankle in the first quarter against Indianapolis in Week 16 or been rested with other key players in a meaningless Week 17 game against Detroit.
Even though he was named this year's most valuable player over Sanders, without whom Detroit never would have reached the playoffs, Thomas says he isn't getting enough credit. Until he is recognized as the best running back in the league, he won't be satisfied.
"When you're considered the best running back in the National Football League, you usually win the rushing title," he said. "Am I right? That's the way it is. It's one of those deals, I have to go out and keep performing. I've been successful throughout my whole career and I want to keep it that way whether I get recognition or not. I want to do what's best for the Buffalo Bills."
Thomas also feels, and perhaps rightfully so, that he was slighted in Super Bowl XXV last January, when the New York Giants' Ottis Anderson was named Super Bowl MVP. Thomas was magnificent in a losing cause, rushing for 135 yards on 15 carries and catching five passes for 55 yards.
Thomas said the slight didn't bother him at the time. But when friends and even reporters told him in the off-season that he should have been the Super Bowl MVP, he came to agree that "I was the best player on the field that night."
Thomas made his point in a preseason game against the New York Giants last August. He wrote "Super Bowl XXV MVP" on tape he wrapped around his cleats. "I got a lot of attention for it," he said.
If that is what he wants, Thomas has come to the right place.