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Sad to see Bills' Thomas on bench
Posted: Thursday September 03, 1998 12:19 PM
Even a tough guy like me gets a little sentimental, a little misty-eyed when opening day rolls around. This will be my 21st. Count 16 as an active player and five as a not-so-active broadcaster.
I know the NFL's opening day doesn't quite measure up to baseball's -- it's hard to top "Play Ball," hot dogs, apple pie and the President throwing out the first pitch.
Just the same, I still feel that same tingle when I think of standing on the sideline, hearts pounding with the national anthem blaring waiting for kickoff. Pure adrenaline.
I talked with Thurman Thomas in a quiet locker room before a preseason game a few weeks ago. I asked him how he felt and how many plays he was going to be in for that night. He replied, "About 10."
I couldn't bear to move from ex-teammate to journalist and ask how he felt about not being the starter any longer. A bigger, faster younger player -- second-year pro Antowain Smith -- has replaced him in the starting lineup.
It seemed too awkward after 154 games and 154 starts, after 11,000-plus yards rushing and 400-plus receptions of producing miracles for the Buffalo Bills that Thurman Thomas was no longer the man. He was No. 2. Like Avis. A lot like Avis. "We try harder."
That should have been Thurman's motto. No one played better in Super Bowl XXV. The debate used to go, Emmitt or Barry? Thurman got the nod for the best all around back, that's like being Miss Congeniality.
Often Thurman spoke like he had a chip on his shoulder. He never recovered from draft day 1988, and the humiliation of waiting by the phone with family and friends, the TV cameras there to document the embarrassment for all the sports world to see. Hadn't he done enough at Oklahoma State to warrant being a first-round pick? Sure, there was the reconstructed knee. He has worn a brace his whole NFL career. But his legs were strong enough to carry the Bills to four straight Super Bowl appearances.
So when they announce the starting lineup for the Bills at San Diego and I don't hear No. 34's name, excuse me if I get a little misty-eyed.
James Lofton, whose 14,004 receiving yards rank second behind only Jerry Rice, is an NFL analyst for CNN/SI. His weekly column will appear Thursdays exclusively on CNNSI.com.
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