Friday, February 02, 2007

Pulling For Thurman

A quick late-night post...

By the next time I will have a chance to update the ol' weblog, the world will know if Thurman Thomas has made it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame or not. His first year of eligibility was last year, and he didn't get in. I made a big stink about it last year, since I think he is one of the five best running backs of his generation, and one of the 15 best running backs of all time. Anyone who remembers him remembers that he was an elite back, and one of the most dangerous backs in the league for the better part of a decade, and even as his career went into decline, he was still a capable back.

One of the issues I have is this: we live in a knee-jerk society, and when it comes to sports media, it's the most short-sighted, forgetful example of how we lose perspective. We live in a world where the World Wide Leader in Sports -- ESPN -- will try to get "instant" reactions to events that need time to marinate. The media is quick to deify players with recent successes (such as, oh, Tedi Bruschi) as possible Hall of Famers despite short stints of success, and then afraid to allow players with long, distinguished careers (such as Art Monk, Thurman or Ray Guy) to have an entrance into the Hall of Fame.

It is because of this that they created the five-year waiting period in Halls of Fame. And in many ways, if Thurman had just retired after the 1999 season instead of defecting to the hated Miami Dolphins, he might have gotten in, since the media's memory would have had one less forgettable year to have to deal with. But that's a whole 'nother blog.

From what I've heard, Thurman is the most likely person to actually make it to the Hall. Jim Kelly may have been the marquee player on those Buffalo teams, but Thurman was the MVP. He had decent speed, surprising shiftiness, and unparalleled field vision. It's no fluke that Barry Sanders backed him up in college. Thurman is the embodiment of the Bills teams of the 1990s.

I do have a bit of a sentimental affinity for Thurman. The first time I heard his name was Draft Day 1988. It was the first draft I had ever watched (and my mom was pissed that I was wasting my time on such drivel), and I remember Thurman sitting and waiting to get picked. They had a camera crew in his house, and he and his mom were waiting for the phone to ring. When it finally did, it was the Bills, who were thrilled to get him with the 40th (and the Bills' first) pick in the draft. The poor guy who was sitting for hours and hours was saved by the Bills. I remember Thurman saying he was going to have to buy a winter coat.

I remember Thurman's first game in 1988 at home against he Vikings, where he scored his first touchdown and spiked the ball with such force that I thought the ball was going to explode. He had a decent year that year, but was overshadowed by fellow rookies John Stephens of New England and Ickey Woods of Cincinnati. But from 1989 until 1996, Thurman was an elite back. He was the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year in 1991.

He had some missteps. He publicly called out Jim Kelly in 1989 on Paul McGuire's local basic cable talk show (a broadcast I watched live and almost shat myself viewing). He notoriously lost his helmet in Super Bowl XXVI. He went to the arch-nemesis Dolphins after the Bills cut him (something that it truly took me a long time for which to forgive him). But to me he is Mr. Buffalo Bill, the embodiment of everything that was great about those Super Bowl teams of my youth. He wasn't the strongest or fastest, but dammit, you couldn't find many people with more heart. And those early Bills teams played almost exclusively on heart. You don't lost three Big Ones in a row and come back for a fourth without having some heart. And I know it sounds corny, but when life gets me down, I can always look to that team to help remind me that we can always get another chance. In life or anything.

In a way, maybe Thurman making the Hall of Fame will be a validation of those great Bills teams of the early 1990s, and therefore a validation of the formative years of my adolescence. That those hours I "wasted" watching and reading about that team (and remember, this was before the internet) weren't for naught. They actually meant something. I was actually watching history. It's something to like or follow a team, but it's something else altogether to feel like the team is actually playing for you. For you personally.

I guess it's hard to explain unless you've been there.

So if Thurman doesn't make the Hall of Fame tomorrow, I'll be okay. I won't stop watching football. I won't hate Peter King (no more than normal anyway). I won't throw anything or curse anyone.

But I will feel a profound sense of injustice. You can read my post from exactly a year ago this weekend. The facts are all there. Check the numbers: the man was a stud. I still profess that he's the prototype running/receiving back (apologies to Roger Craig and Marshall Faulk). Give the man his ugly yellow jacket. My eyes tell me he deserves it.

[Update: He made it. Thank the lord, cuz I was all ready to start march to Canton, Ohio to protest. I had it all planned out. I'm actually slightly disappointed I have to scrap that plan. Maybe I can hold onto it for Andre Reed. Let's not forget that Reed is #5 all-time for NFL receptions, and he made 6 consecutive Pro Bowls in the lat '80s and early '90s. Oh, how I love a new crusade.]


'Don' Cialini said...

Lets hope he doesn't "forget" or "lose" his horrible Yellow Jacket come speach time on the big day. I'd hate for someone else have to make his opening lines.....

Bill said...

Yeah, if he does forget his speech, maybe he could have Carlos Beltrán or Armando Benitez help him out with it. Thanks for your comment!