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Intensity makes Thomas most deserving

Put aside the numbers.

They made a rock-solid case for Thurman Thomas' induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but they are not the starting point for a discussion about what made him an ultra-special player.

The starting point is his attitude.

Thomas produced Hall-of-Fame numbers because he was one of the most incredibly driven athletes ever to play any sport. Yes, any sport.

That is not an overstatement. That is a fact.

Having covered Thomas' entire Bills career for the Buffalo News, I can say with absolute certainty that Thomas didn't just play angry. He prepared angry -- on the practice field, in the meeting room, in his car, at the breakfast table. He routinely put on his game face the Wednesday before a Sunday kickoff, sometimes sooner.

For an emotionally charged game such as football, there isn't a more critical ingredient for success. At the NFL level, exceptional talent is a given. It's what gets you in the door. Exceptional attitude is what keeps you there and allows you to reach exceptional heights.

The bottom line with Thomas is not that he is the lone player in history to lead the NFL in total yards from scrimmage for four consecutive seasons or that he ranks seventh among running backs in all-time yards from scrimmage with 16,532 or that he ranks 12th in all-time rushing yards with 12,074. It isn't even that he could explode through a hole better than almost any other back in league history or catch the ball as well as the best of wide receivers or give up his modest, 5-foot-10, 198-pound frame to protect the passer or make running room for Andre Reed or anyone else with the football.

The bottom line is that he cared so deeply about everything connected with the game. Thomas took the task of helping the Bills win personally. He couldn't stomach the thought of losing. He wouldn't tolerate even the slightest hint that all of his teammates and coaches didn't share his off-the-charts passion. The fact is not everyone did because not everyone could. Certainly, the Bills had plenty of individuals with tremendous desire; they wouldn't have reached four Super Bowls in a row unless that was true.

But there wasn't another Buffalo player, including the fiery Jim Kelly, who took that desire to another level.

No other player in Bills history understood the depth of the rivalry with the Miami Dolphins better than Thomas. Twice a year (and three times if there was a playoff meeting), he would make it his mission to make certain that the Bills were ready to be at their very best. He would address his teammates about it during meetings, but his play spoke even louder. He tried to carry the entire squad on his back.

Thomas knew what beating the Dolphins, who were 20-0 against the Bills through the 1970s, meant to a majority of Buffalonians. He couldn't bear the thought of letting them down. Although he was born in Houston and arrived in Western New York via Oklahoma State, Thomas plugged into the hard-core spirit of the Buffalo fan. He wore the red, white, and blue uniform, but simultaneously rooted for it with every bit as much love as any die-hard, season-ticket holder in the upper deck of Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Thomas sought reasons to be mad at anyone he believed didn't share his winning-is-all-that-matters agenda. He called out teammates, including Kelly. He called out reporters.

I was one of his targets.

After one game, Thomas told a horde of reporters that I was trying to "stir things up" by calling his team the "Bickering Bills," which accurately described the internal strife that divided the locker room and even the coaching staff in 1989. The television clip received considerable national play. My oldest daughter, who was five at the time, asked, "Why is that man so mad at you?"

I got over it. Thomas got over it. We since have become friends. I am not ashamed to say that I am thrilled with his induction.

And for more reasons than his numbers, he is one of the most deserving enshrinees of them all.

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