Bills' Thomas is super anxious to get his due

January 22, 1992|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Correspondent

MINNEAPOLIS -- The list of accomplishments for Thurman Thomas in 1991 is already stunning:

* He has been named the NFL's Most Valuable Player.

* He has been selected for his third straight Pro Bowl.

* He will play in his second straight Super Bowl.

And still, Thomas, the Buffalo Bills' enigmatic running back, is not a happy camper. He wants more.

He wants a victory over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XXVI on Sunday, and he wants to be acknowledged as the best running back in the NFL. Neither is going to come easily, of course.

Thomas brought his four-year crusade for recognition to the nation's media yesterday when the Bills and Redskins launched a week of interviews in the Metrodome, the site of Sunday's game.

"When you're considered the best running back in the National Football League, you usually win the rushing title," Thomas said. "Am I right? That's the way it is.

"It's one of those deals where I have to go out and keep performing. I've been successful throughout my whole career and want to keep it that way whether I get recognition or not. I want to do what's best for the Buffalo Bills."

Thomas finished third in rushing this season behind Emmitt Smith of Dallas and Barry Sanders of Detroit. He could have won the title, however, had it not been for a first-quarter injury in a Week 16 game against Indianapolis, or the fact that coach Marv Levy elected to rest his stars in a Week 17 game against Detroit.

As it was, Thomas finished with a career-high 1,407 yards and an average gain of 4.9. His total of 2,038 yards from scrimmage led the NFL for the third year in a row, equaling a feat last accomplished by the legendary Jim Brown.

The Bills appreciate Thomas' contributions to the no-huddle offense, both as a runner and a third-down receiver.

"He's the greatest running back in the NFL -- an all-around back," said Bills guard Jim Ritcher. "He's such a great receiver out of the backfield, and just a great natural runner. We're very fortunate to have him on our team."

Despite such high praise from his teammates, and despite two straight Super Bowl appearances, Thomas doesn't feel he has gotten proper recognition.

"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," he said. "And it took three years to get recognition.

"I don't understand that. I don't know if it's the small 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'm very deserving of the recognition I got this year, [and should have gotten] a couple years ago."

Thomas, a 5-foot-10, 198-pound inside runner, had a brilliant college career at Oklahoma State, rushing for 4,595 yards and 43 touchdowns. But a knee injury before his junior season cast a pall over his pro career, and he wasn't taken until the second round in the 1988 draft.

It was one of the most disappointing days of his life, and it set the tone for his pro career. Thomas keeps a video of that draft as a motivational reminder that he still has something to prove in the NFL.

"I looked at it a lot my first couple of years," he said. "But I've probably looked at it two or three times this year. It's one of those things where early in my career I would look at it as a motivational tool. But now my motivation is just to be the best football player that I can be, no matter what happens."

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