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Built to Last
Peter King
December 08, 1997
The Bucs make a statement, The downward spiral of the NFC East, Jaguars' Johnson, a coveted quarterback
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December 08, 1997

Built To Last

The Bucs make a statement, The downward spiral of the NFC East, Jaguars' Johnson, a coveted quarterback

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There certainly was none in Thomas or the 6-7 Bills on Sunday. Squeezing through tiny holes and bouncing off tacklers for big gains, Thomas set the tone by gaining 34 yards—on a reception and two runs—on the Bills' first three plays. He finished with 104 yards on 18 carries (his first 100-yard game since Nov. 3, 1996) and passed O.J. Simpson to move into ninth place on the league's alltime rushing list, with 11,325 yards. "There's been a lot of talk about Thurman losing a step or being too old," says Antowain Smith, the rookie who has replaced Thomas. "But he never ceases to amaze me."

Beyond the stats, Thomas is boosting his image with his work on the practice field. A player with a reputation for being curt with fans and the media, Thomas wants to finish off his career like Marcus Allen—a mentor who can still turn in an outstanding performance. Early last week it was Thomas and other Buffalo veterans who made it clear to their teammates that mailing in the final four games of '97 would not be tolerated.

"I know he's not a 300-carry-a-year man like he's been," coach Marv Levy said after Sunday's game. "But Thurman sure looked quick and competitive today. I think he can play in this league for a while. He can keep playing for the Buffalo Bills, I'll tell you that."
—DAVID FLEMING

Tagliabue: Stay in School
Commissioner Paul Tagliabue says the NFL will fight bids by any second-year college players to enter the '98 draft. "We think our rules [limiting signings to players with at least three years of college] will stand up in court," Tagliabue says. Wisconsin running back Ron Dayne is the most likely candidate to test the waters next spring, but he, or any other second-year sophomores, won't get any support from Packers general manager Ron Wolf. "I hope if one of those guys wants to come out, we discourage him by letting him know we'll light it hard," says Wolf. "We should make him feel like Curt Flood [whose ultimately successful challenge to baseball's reserve clause dragged on for years], so he'll stay in school."

Dispatches

Boomer Esiason, angered that the Bengals recently cut longtime tackle Joe Walter, took to wearing Walter's number, 63, on the back of his helmet instead of his own number. Last week the league fined Esiason $5,000 for violating its uniform code. Esiason wore his customary 7 on Sunday but printed a 63 on the back of his helmet....

The Raiders (4-9) are on the verge of losing 10 games for the first time in a nonstrike season since going 1-13 in 1962....

Speculation is rampant about who will replace Cowboys coach Barry Switzer if Jerry Jones cuts him loose in the off-season. This much is certain: Jones isn't going to pick some puppet who can't stand up for himself. My money's on Bears coach Dave Wannstedt.

The End Zone
Nine-year-old Jaguars fan Andy Wilkinson went to ALLTEL Stadium last week to get autographs from his heroes. While there he stuck his head into the mouth of a 16-foot, 2,850-pound bronze jaguar that sits in front of the west entrance to the .stadium so his mom could take his picture. Then he announced, "I can't get my head out, Mom!" Andy was stuck for an hour, and one of the cat's teeth had to be sawed off so the child could be freed. Asked if he had learned a lesson, Andy replied, "Yes. Don't stick your head in a jaguar's mouth."

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