LOS ANGELES -- Thurman Thomas, the angry young man of Super Bowl XXVI, has turned pacifist for Super Bowl XXVII.
Gone is the chip on his shoulder of a year ago -- the one he dared anyone to knock off.
Gone, too, is the shrill blast of discord on the Buffalo Bills. It's been replaced by the light, harmonious note of unity.
Not gone, though, is the nightmarish memory of the lost helmet. Thomas' lost helmet.
When someone unwittingly moved his helmet from the spot he had left it moments before the Bills' offense took the field against the Washington Redskins last year, the veteran running back was forced to sit out the first two plays of Super Bowl XXVI.
And if that is his fate, to live in Super Bowl infamy because of a misplaced helmet, Thomas sounded resigned to that fate yesterday.
Asked if he thought the memory of the lost helmet might disappear with a Buffalo victory over the Dallas Cowboys in SuperBowl XXVII Sunday, Thomas said, "Probably not. I know what the first headline is going to be: 'Bills win Super Bowl -- Thurman Thomas finds helmet.' "
That line drew hearty laughter from the media on hand for picture day at Dodger Stadium. It was in stark contrast to the acrimony that cloaked everything he did a year ago in Minneapolis.
That lost helmet capped a perfectly wretched week for Thomas, who whined about not getting enough recognition.
"I think the rest of my career, people are going to judge me about that helmet issue," he said, "which I think is wrong. But that's the media. That's what you write, what you sell newspapers for. No matter what I do, that's always going to be the thing about Thurman Thomas -- no matter how many records may be set."
Back for their third straight Super Bowl, the Bills, winless in the first two, are trying mightily to get it right this time. Thomas exemplifies that new attitude. He endured the hour-long media session with equal parts humility, patience and humor.
Unlike a year ago, when he wrestled verbally with quarterback Jim Kelly over the unofficial title of Most Valuable Bill, Thomas was generous with praise -- for the Cowboys in general, for
Emmitt Smith in particular, and for his understudy on the Bills, Kenneth Davis.
"Thurman wasn't nervous or apprehensive about this," Davis said in another part of Dodger Stadium. "He's professional in what he's doing, and he's handling it in a professional manner. He's trying to clear it up."
Said general manager Bill Polian, "We tried to point out [to Thomas] you can have a problem here that is not of your own making, simply because of what this is."
Allowing that his harangue for recognition was out of line, Thomas said it was the exception, not the rule.
"We were more businesslike in Super Bowl XXV [against the New York Giants] and this one," he said.
"Super Bowl XXVI, we got out of hand with comments some players made -- myself, Bruce Smith and a couple of other players.
Bills safety Mark Kelso, for one, can see the difference a year makes.
"These guys are good character guys," he said of Thomas and Smith. "I know I enjoy working with them. I'm proud to be their teammate. Someday I'll tell my grandchildren I played with them. They're good people.
"This year, Thurman is not concerned about who's the best. He's going to be one of the best guys ever to play his position when he's done. That speaks for itself."
Thomas' production continued to speak volumes this season.
He led the NFL in total yards for the fourth straight year, breaking a record he shared with Jim Brown. His rushing yardage of 1,487 yards was second to Pittsburgh's Barry Foster, and his 12 touchdowns led the AFC.
Good people? Lost in last year's Super Bowl rancor was the fact that Thomas made a 1991 contribution of what will amount to close to $1 million to his alma mater, Oklahoma State. He gave the school a cash gift of $125,000, repaying his athletic scholarship. Then he took out a $750,000 life insurance policy and named the university as beneficiary.
Yet, he is better known as the guy who lost his helmet on Super Bowl Sunday. And he can laugh about that sad state of affairs.
"I've always laughed about it," he said. "You guys don't laugh about me. You guys try to make a big issue about it. Me and my close friends always laugh about it. We know that's not the reason we lost the Super Bowl. The Washington Redskins were a better team."
Thomas said he will do nothing different this Sunday.
He will place his helmet on the bench at the end of the field where the Bills' offense will get the ball, just as he's done since his rookie year.
"I just like to be relaxed," he said. "I don't want to hold onto anything [before taking the field] . . . I've done this since 1988. That's the first time it ever happened."
Asked if he knew who moved it, Thomas paused a moment, then, with a devilish smile, said, "I say it was Kenny Davis."
It sounded so much better than acrimony.