Jerry Reynolds, the director of player personnel for the Sacramento Kings, grew up in French Lick, Ind., the faded resort town that produced NBA legend Larry Bird. Jerry's mother, Bennice, and one of his two brothers, Randy, still live there, as does Bird. Recently, Randy was laid up and unable to take care of things around his mother's house, as he usually does. "The yard started growing a lot, and Larry Bird noticed one day," says Jerry. "He went home, got his lawn mower and mowed my mom's yard."
Did Bennice realize just who was cutting her grass? "I asked her," says Jerry. "She said, 'Oh, yes. It was one of Georgia Bird's boys, but I'm not sure which one.' "
You may recall Thurman Thomas, the Buffalo Bills' running back, as the guy who 1) complained when he wasn't drafted in the first round; 2) complained that he wasn't being accorded enough "respect" as a pro; 3) complained anew that he wasn't being accorded enough "respect," even after he was named the league's MVP and Offensive Player of the Year in 1991; 4) missed the first play of Super Bowl XXVI after misplacing his helmet; 5) went on to rush for 13 yards in that game; 6) returned to the Super Bowl a year later to gain 19 yards; 7) flipped the bird at two TV news cameramen last summer; and 8) referred to members of the media as "you ——" over a live radio microphone following the Bills' 44-10 defeat of Kansas City on Oct. 30.
But four boys, ages seven to 10, have their own, much more personal remembrances of Thomas. According to a letter to The Buffalo News from the grandfather of two of the boys, George Schmelzer of Orchard Park, N.Y., the young fans made the mistake of approaching Thomas for autographs outside Rich Stadium the day after the Bills' 23-3 season-opening loss to the New York Jets.
"I don't give —— autographs," the boys say Thomas told them.
"Well, I don't want it anyway after the way you played Sunday," one of the kids replied.
"That's because I was —— your mama all night," Thomas allegedly shot back.
According to Schmelzer, Bill media relations director Scott Berchtold told him that he had witnessed the exchange and apologized to him on the club's behalf, but publicly Berchtold won't confirm or deny that the Thomas incident even occurred. For his part Thomas denies he said what the boys claim he said, although he doesn't exactly do so categorically. "To my knowledge, I can't recall that happening," he said on his weekly cable TV show. "Deep inside, Thurman Thomas isn't the type of person to cuss out a little kid, especially in the public eye with adults around."
Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz has come in for his share of grief in this space for lapses in football etiquette. But in light of the alarming spate of helmet-doffing touchdown celebrations in college games this season, we're happy to cite Holtz, much as a society doyenne might invoke Letitia Baldrige. Players like Tennessee's James Stewart and Florida State's Rock Preston, both of whom bared their heads after scoring TDs on Saturday, should be grateful they don't play for the Irish. "We have a law," says Holtz. "You can take off your headgear and point to the crowd and look into the camera if you make a good play. That's provided you also do it after a fumble, after you drop a pass and after you miss a block."