Sully's Mailbag: Thurman Thomas Remains Bills' Best Player in History


The answer to the first question is: Yes. I stayed up until the end of Game 3 of the World Series, which ended at 3:30 this morning when Max Muncy homered in the bottom of the 18th inning to give the Dodgers a 3-2 win and cut Boston’s lead in the series to 2-1.

Did I nod off at times in the easy chair? Of course. I slept through the 15th and 16th innings, woke up and at first thought the game had ended. Then I realized it was still going on. I generally record the games, so I must have recorded half a dozen shows, including “The Simpsons” and back-to-back episodes of “Two and a Half Men.”

I believe the game lasted 7 hours, 20 minutes, a Series record. The 18 innings was a record, breaking the previous mark of 14. The game lasted longer in clock time than the entire 1939 World Series, when the Yankees swept the Reds. Some 17 hours after Muncy’s walk-off, they’ll go at it again Saturday night in Game 4.

As a lifelong Red Sox fan, I’m nervous. It was like losing two games. The Sox would have won except for a brutal error by Ian Kinsler in extra innings. He’s the new Buckner, I guess. On to this week’s Mailbag. I need a distraction.

@RLGoody asks: Do you have a favorite Thurman memory/game? Who is #1 on your Bills running back list- Thurman, OJ, Cookie, McCoy?

Sully: Timely question with Thurman's No. 34 jersey getting retired on Monday night. I have a lot of great memories. Thomas was a volatile and fascinating character, and I consider him the greatest Bill of all time, not just the best running back. So I’ve answered your first question.

My favorite memory has to be the AFC title game against the Chiefs before the fourth Super Bowl. Thomas had 403 touches (355 carries, 48 receptions) during the season. His performance slipped over the last six games, costing him a chance to lead the NFL in yards from scrimmage for the fifth year in a row (he has the record with four.)

Anyway, I wrote a notes column during the week and suggested that backup Kenneth Davis get 10 carries in the title game. Thomas, who was always looking for some slight to get himself fired up for a game, was outraged. He thought I was advocating for Davis to take his job.

Thomas ran like a madman. He had 33 carries for 186 yards and three TDs as the Bills rolled, 30-13. It was the second-most yards in a game in his career. He never rushed for more than 50 yards in a playoff game again.

After the win, Thomas was still upset. During his post-game remarks, he talked about people doubting him before the game. It was classic Thurman. I never covered a greater competitor, or more volcanic personality. Those were fun days. I wish guys were like him today.

Oh, Kenny Davis had 10 carries for 32 yards against KC that day.


@DontTrustTheProcess asks: Can’t believe the Pegulas are happy with the way the QB position was handled this year behind a porous o-line and a poor WR group. Why don’t they seek out an experienced football czar to oversee things?

@olafubny asks: Do you think the reason the Pegulas anointed the unqualified #McBeane braintrust was because they don't like being challenged? They had Bill Polian and Tom Coughlin visit at different stages and my sense is the Pegulas were unwilling to defer to them.

Mike Simonsen asks: How long do you think "The Process" Should take? Why do so many people not give them the benefit of 3 years? The remarkable work done to clear up cap space should buy them a 4th year on top of that right?

Sully: I grouped these together as an entry. Clearly, the more critical fans are beginning to have their doubts about Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane while questioning whether the Pegulas gave them too much power.

I’ve said all along that McDermott was the most empowered coach in team history. The Pegulas desperately wanted to believe in someone after the Rex Ryan-Doug Whaley regime. So they handed control to a rookie head coach. They allowed him to run his first draft and hire the general manager, which essentially took them out of the running for Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson.

When the Pegulas bought the Bills, I called for them to hire some kind of czar to help them navigate the NFL waters. They talked to Polian and considered Coughlin, yes. But they didn’t follow through, which resulted in a power struggle between Doug Marrone and Whaley — both new in their jobs at the time.

They didn’t learn their lesson. There’s a power void between ownership and “McBeane,” which was the case in the previous regimes (and it's the same with the Sabres). Russ Brandon was ousted as president, but he didn’t wield any real influence in the football department. They still suffer for not having a strong, veteran football man between ownership and the football side to oversee things.

But McDermott and Beane are safe. There’s no way the Pegulas make a change at this point. The new guys do have a plan. They broke the playoff drought. Yes, they were negligent to put together such a weak offense — perhaps the worst in team history — to support a franchise rookie quarterback.

Beane looks bad because of it. But any criticism has to begin with McDermott, who has been the real power in personnel from the time he came to Buffalo. If things aren’t looking better at this time next year, then you can start to wonder about people’s job security.


@BuffaloBRAUN asks: Why not blitz Brady? They say he picks you apart if you blitz. Really? Seems to me he picks you apart either way. You might as well give your team a shot at pressuring his throw, blocking his pass or — heaven forbid — knock him on his keister.

Sully: We deal with this question every year. Yes, it would be great if they could pressure Brady and get him uncomfortable in the pocket. That’s when he makes bad decisions. But the Greatest of All Time gets rid of the ball so quickly, and is so gifted at understanding defenses, that he does pick you apart and make big plays down the field.

The Bills found out last week against Andrew Luck the danger of blitzing and exposing the linebackers to underneath throws. Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds got destroyed. Luck found the holes in the defense. They were also out of their gaps too often agains the run. Oh, and they got zero sacks.

So the best strategy on Monday night is to get pressure from the front four, the way they did against the Texans, and play coverage against Brady. Rex Ryan did it a few years in a night game and Brady spent the game throwing the ball away because he couldn’t find open guys.

OK, so they lost, but they only gave up 20 points. The way the Bills offense is playing this year, it’s hard to see them giving up 20 and winning. But at least it’ll be respectable.


Bill Nelson asks: The Bills cannot pass on Chad twice. Let Chad and Josh compete to be the starter. Sully, think about it with an open mind for a minute before answering.

Sully. Thanks so much, Bill, for the advisory on keeping my mind open. I’d hate to leap to the conclusion that Chad Kelly is a deeply troubled (and maybe addicted) soul who has now been thrown off teams in high school, college and the NFL. Or that he has threatened cops in Buffalo and verbally abused a teen queen in South Carolina.

No, let’s defer to addled Bills fans who have a fascination for Kelly because he’s football royalty who played at St. Joe’s. At the risk of having a closed mind, I was sick and tired two years ago of hearing Buffalo people talk about the need to get Kelly to the Bills as the next quarterback savior.

I’m not sure Josh Allen is the answer. But I’m pretty sure Kelly isn’t. If someone is going to give him another chance to embarrass himself, let it be some other town.


Cliff Fazzolari asks: I recall you saying the Yankees’ payroll advantages were bad for baseball. Now that Red Sox are the best team money can buy, are you less critical of free-spending? They’re still being sold as underdogs, and somehow overachievers. Tad hypocritical, or no?

Sully: Nice try, Cliff. I guess it’s convenient to accuse writers of hypocrisy without actually having the facts right. You must have missed my preview column in April, in which I made fun of the Red Sox for having a payroll that was $50 million more than the Yankees.

I might have bemoaned the Yanks’ payroll back in the Steinbrenner days. But over the years, I came to see the Yanks as good for baseball, a useful villain. There’s no way baseball is going to have a salary cap, and there are many cases of teams (Oakland, KC) who competed with much lower payrolls.

The Red Sox as underdogs and overachievers? What decade are you in? They’ve done a nice job of developing their own players — as the Yankees did in the Jeter era. But they also threw big money at the likes of Chris Sale, David Price and J.D. Martinez.

They’re not the cuddly Sox of my youth. Rooting for them has lost some of its innocent charm, I’ll admit. Happy now?


@ThomasWNY asks: Any chance any of the UB Bulls would be drafted in the first round of NFL draft? If the team won out the rest of their games, could they compete for a National title?

Sully: The Bulls have three players who are expected to be drafted: Junior quarterback Tyree Jackson in 2020 and two seniors, wide receiver Anthony Johnson and linebacker Khalil Hodge, this spring.

Of the three, only Johnson has a realistic chance of going in the first round. He has the size and speed that NFL scouts covet. A recent CBS mock draft has him going 29th overall to the Packers, who are always looking to add wideout depth for Aaron Rodgers. Johnson has struggled with injuries this season, which might cause some NFL teams to hesitate before taking him that high.

Jackson is 6-7, 245 pounds with a rocket arm, so he’s seen as an intriguing draft sleeper. Some team might take a stab at him in an early round, but he’d be better off staying in school for one more year and polishing his skills. He’s still pretty raw right now and needs to improve as a pocket passer.

Hodge is a tackling machine. He was second in the nation in tackles a year ago. At 6-1, 235, he’s a bit undersized, but he’s catching the eye of the pro scouts and could be among the second tier of linebackers on draft boards in this year’s draft.


Jack Gray asks: How much do you think Machado cost himself last night from not running to repeatedly failing in the clutch?

Sully: Manny Machado admits he’s no Johnny Hustle, but standing and watching a ball that hits the wall in a big Series game has to raise some doubts in the minds of MLB teams who might consider him as a $300 million free agent.

Machado is a great fielder and solid hitter, but it looks like the Red Sox advance scouts have him figured out. Feed him stuff high in the zone and he has a tendency to pop out while trying to elevate the long ball.

His free-agent value might have dropped by several million. Still, it only takes one team to overpay a guy with proven issues. Remember the last huge contract extension the Yanks gave to a chronic playoff failure, Alex Rodriguez?

Comments (1)
No. 1-1

Thurman rushed for 158 yards against Miami in the 1995 playoffs, Sully. I'm only saying because you said in the article that he didn't rush for more than 50 yards again after the 1993 AFC Championship game.