By Dave Ongie
Before giving his keynote speech during the Salvation Army Souper Bowl on Friday, NFL Hall of Fame running back Thurman Thomas took some time to reflect on his football career.
If it wasn’t for a knee injury during his senior season at Oklahoma State, Thomas would have been a surefire first-round draft pick. Instead, he fell into the second round, where he landed in the perfect situation when he was drafted by the Buffalo Bills.
In Buffalo, Thomas helped lead the Bills to four consecutive Super Bowls, but those teams are best remembered for losing all four of those games. As Thomas looked back at his journey, however, he didn’t focus on the adversity – he focused on the blessings.
“Making four is pretty darn incredible to do,” Thomas said. “Obviously we would have liked to have won one, but if we had won one, we might not have made it to four in a row.”
What’s more, the brotherhood Thomas and his teammates formed during that era may not be as strong as it is today if not for the Super Bowl setbacks that tempered the triumphs they achieved together. Thomas still lives in Buffalo along with several other members of that team, including quarterback Jim Kelly.
Kelly lives right around the corner from Thomas, and Thomas credits Kelly for inspiring the spirit of philanthropy that has consumed Thomas’ life in recent years. Thomas watched Kelly lose his young son Hunter to Krabbe Disease in 2005 and supported his friend as he battled cancer twice during the past decade.
“To see a father go through something like that – we became very, very close to the Kelly family and Hunter as well,” Thomas said.
So when Thomas rolls out of bed each morning these days, he does so with a mission. The 51-year-old told the packed ballroom at the Holiday Inn his goal in life these days is to seek out those who are going through adversity and do what he can to be a blessing to them.
In that sense, Thomas and the Salvation Army make a perfect team. Under the direction of Captain Michael Cox, our local chapter of the Salvation Army provides assistance for thousands of people in our area each year through a variety of programs.
“It’s almost getting to the point now where people are asking, ‘Do you all ever sleep? Do you all ever rest?’ But I tell everybody all the time that I’m here for a reason – to help people,” Thomas said.
While Thomas is proud of what he was able to accomplish in football, he told those in attendance on Friday that he wants to be remembered for the impact he is now trying to make away from the playing field. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t occasionally sit down with his former teammates and wonder what might have been.
“We always talk (among) ourselves, ‘Imagine if we had won four in a row. We would have been like the Beatles or something,’ ” Thomas said with a laugh. “But you move on.”