Thurman Thomas was one of the most exciting players to ever wear a Buffalo Bills football uniform. It is no wonder that the team is retiring his uniform number 34 in the Bills upcoming Monday Night Football contest against the New England Patriots.
The Hall of Fame running back has become quite a fixture in Western New York over the years. Following his retirement from pro football Thomas decided to put down roots in Western New York and settle down.
Not surprising Thomas has been seen many times in attendance at Buffalo Sabres hockey games. Interestingly enough, Thomas’ hockey roots go back to his days growing up outside of Houston, TX. That’s right. Houston, TX.
It was at a Sabres game that I got to talk to Thomas and his love of hockey.
“It was back in Houston when they had the Aeros of the old World Hockey Association,” called Thomas, a five-time Pro Bowl selection as well as rushing for over 1000 yards for eight consecutive seasons (1989-96). “That is when I actually heard about hockey for the first time.
“People don’t think of Houston as being a hockey town because it is hot and all. But the hockey fans were great there with the Aeros. And that’s where I first heard the name of Gordie Howe. He was the first player I really followed as a fan of the game. And that name has really stuck with me for the rest of my life.”
I recalled another instance when Thomas dropped by the Sabres press box. He was introduced to Mark Howe, the son of Gordie and a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame like his father, who was scouting the game that night.
Mark had the opportunity to play with his father, as well as his brother, Marty, when the trio played together with the Aeros. I remember Mark and Thomas talking for almost 20 minutes about Houston and hockey.
“I couldn’t believe it when I was introduced to him,” recalled Thomas about that evening in the Sabres press box. “We talked a lot about Houston, the Aeros and hockey today.”
What makes hockey so interesting to Thomas?
“I just enjoy the game,” answered Thomas, who was the NFL’s MVP in 1991. “In a way hockey is a lot like football. It’s a very physical game.
“You have to be skilled out there on the field of play to know what you are doing.”
(NHL.com photo of Thurman Thomas)