Thurman Thomas' No. 34 to be retired by the Bills
May 16, 2018 03:00 PM | Chris Brown

As a Pro Football Hall of Famer, a Bills Wall of Famer and the team's all-time leading rusher, Thurman Thomas' legacy as a Buffalo Bill was essentially already etched in stone. Now his jersey No. 34 will be part of that legacy as the club announced they'll be retiring his number this fall.

Thomas is just the third player in team history to have his number retired joining former teammates Jim Kelly and Bruce Smith.

"It does make it unique knowing that I played with Bruce for 12 years and with Jim for eight years," Thomas told "I can remember the things that they did on the football field and why they had their jerseys retired, and now I'm going to be in that same group with those guys. To be in the company of those two players is something special."

Kelly's No. 12 was retired in 2001, while Smith's No. 78 was given the same honor in 2016.

The formal retirement of the Hall of Fame running back's jersey number will take place in Week 8 at halftime of the Bills matchup with the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football.

Jersey number 34 is one that Thomas has worn since the seventh grade. A Houston native, Thomas wore the number due to a Hall of Fame Houston Oiler.

"I'm from Texas and Earl Campbell went to the University of Texas and then became a Houston Oiler," Thomas said. "He wore 20 at Texas, but was 34 with the Oilers. I was a Texas kid, who was a running back and loved Earl Campbell. I certainly didn't have the thighs or the speed that he had, but I just loved the way he ran the football. Being in Texas you'd always hear his name so I'd watch highlights of him and he just became an idol of mine."

Thomas was also a fan of the late Hall of Famer Walter Payton, who he got the opportunity to meet as a rookie with the Bills when they played the Bears in 1988.

"I'm getting my ankles taped before the game in the training room and if you knew Walter Payton, you knew he had that high-pitched voice," said Thomas. "And I heard his voice and he was asking, 'Where's that 34 at? Where's 34?' So he found me in the training room and we talked for a bit. I told him I started running hills in the offseason after I read about his offseason workouts."

As much as Thomas respected some of his NFL predecessors, he is widely regarded as one of the best offensive players in team history. Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007, Thomas was the engine of the Bills' K-Gun offense of the early 1990's that catapulted them to four consecutive AFC titles.

"He was an all-purpose back," said Jim Kelly. "He wasn't a guy where he'd go off tackle right and off tackle left and trap right and trap left and that was it. He brought something to the table that defenses weren't prepared for and that was him coming out of the backfield or splitting him out wide. We did some special things with him."

The NFL MVP in 1991, Thomas became the 11th player in NFL history at the time to accumulate 2,000 all-purpose yards. Thomas was selected first team or second team All-Pro for five straight seasons (1989-1993), went to five consecutive Pro Bowls and was named a member of the All-AFC team each year during that span.

"He led the league in yards from scrimmage four straight years and it had never been done before, not even by Jim Brown who had held the record with three," said former teammate and fellow Wall of Famer Steve Tasker. "For certain stretches of his career not only was he the best running back in football, he was the best player at any position in football."

The Bills all-time leading rusher also put together eight-consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons, one of only five NFL running backs to do so, and was chosen as a member of the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 1990s.

When he retired in 2001, Thomas ranked ninth on the league's all-time rushing list with 12,074 yards.

Thomas has already been a part of elite company with his College Football Hall of Fame induction and Pro Football Hall of Fame induction, but being one of just three men in the 60-year history of the Bills franchise to be honored this way leaves Thomas without words.

"I'm kind of speechless and don't know what to say.," he said. "I never came into this league thinking I would have my jersey retired. I never came into this league thinking I was going to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"You come into the league thinking you're going to win championships. If you have an opportunity to do that and play well over a long period of time, you could have an opportunity to go to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. To have your jersey retired... It really is a big deal."

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