An MVP Season Whines Down

February 03, 1992

What a virtuoso week it was for Buffalo Bills running back Thurman Thomas, pro football's MVC—most valuable crybaby. Thomas's seventh day in Minneapolis ended with him sitting in front of his locker at the Metrodome after haying one of the worst games of his life, but he didn't appear upset. He was singing a happy song to himself and reading the comic that came with the bubble gum he'd just unwrapped. The comic also had a fortune written across the bottom.

"You know what your fortune is?" fullback Carwell Gardner said, looking on.

"Huh?" Thomas said.

"You're going to lose the Super Bowl today!" Gardner said.

They both yukked it up over that one. It was almost as funny as what Thomas had said three days earlier during an interview session at Buffalo's hotel—that he was unloved, un-respected and also the "Michael Jordan of the Bills." On Sunday, Thomas looked more like the Greg Kite of the Bills. He lost his helmet—lost his helmet in the Super Bowl!—as the game began and bad to miss the Bills' first two offensive plays. He wound up with 10 rushes for 13 yards and four receptions for 27 yards. Then he complained about how little e bad been used in the game. Then he complained about how little he had been used in last year's Super Bowl.

Here's a perfect illustration of his play on Sunday. Trailing 24-3 in the third quarter, Buffalo was rallying and had first-and-goal at the Washington one—time for Thomas to dive over the pile and into the end zone. But when he took the handoff from quarterback Jim Kelly, instead of leaping Jordanesquely for the sure touchdown, Thomas leaned into the pile and gained nothing. That was hardly the right way to impress a nation you're hoping will respect you in the morning.

"I wasn't getting the ball enough," he said after the game.

"I work my butt off all week in practice, and then the game comes and I don't touch the ball. The coaches know they have to get the ball to me if we're going to win the game."

Then he made his complaint retroactive by 52 weeks, saying, "I don't feel I got the ball enough last year, either." He touched it 20 times and gained 190 yards in Buffalo's 20-19 Super Bowl XXV loss to the New York Giants.

Thomas was snubbed to some extent on Sunday, but the Bills had fallen behind 17-0 midway through the second quarter, and they called 25 straight pass plays soon thereafter in an attempt to get back into the game. Of course, he would have gotten one or two more carries had he not lost his helmet. "I couldn't find it," he said. "Somebody moved it."

Thomas's incessant whining earlier in the week was equally insufferable. He was the only player on either team who didn't show for Wednesday's interview sessions. The Buffalo p.r. office later claimed that Thomas had misunderstood the schedule. When he did show up for Thursday's interviews, fit indicated that he had been upset the day before because offensive coordinator Ted Marchibroda had referred to Kelly as "the Bills' Michael Jordan." You see, Thomas had been called "the Bills' Michael Jordan" all season, and now, all of a sudden, Buffalo had two Michael Jordans.

Next he moaned about being lumped with Barry Sanders of the Detroit Lions and Emmitt Smith of the Dallas Cowboys in the category of the NFL's best backs. "I have the title of being the best all-around running back in the NFL," said Thomas, who has led the league in combined rushing and receiving yardage the past three seasons. "So that's a title I'll just have to live with." Finally he complained about the lack of respect he gets from the media, which was odd, considering that they had just voted him the league's MVP for 1991.

"You have to understand Thurman," said Bills tackle Will Wolford when he was informed of Thomas's remarks. "If you didn't know him, you'd think he was an idiot. We've known him two or three years now, and we know he's an idiot."

The shame of it all is that Thomas is a wonderful player, one of the league's most brilliant performers, on a team loaded with star-caliber players. Unfortunately, he has emerged as a shining example of why the Bills can't get it together in the Big One.

While the Bills are losing Super Bowls at a rapid clip, Thomas is losing credibility even faster.

PHOTOPETER READ MILLERThomas didn't display his customary spring on this lackluster TD effort.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)