MAYVILLE - Thurman Thomas walked to a shaded area above the Chautauqua Lake Central School football field late Tuesday morning and before he could even sit down at a nearby table he spotted a man who was wearing a Boston Red Sox cap.
''I knew that I should have worn my Yankees' hat,'' the former Buffalo Bills running back said with a laugh.
It was typical Thurman.
Above, former Buffalo Buffalo Bills running back Thurman Thomas makes a point to the participants at the Fundamental Football Camp at Chautauqua Lake Central School on Tuesday. Below, Thomas is seen busy signing autographs.
P-J photos by Scott Kindberg
The heart-and-soul of the Bills during their Super Bowl years, Thomas was always looking for an edge or a motivation to fuel his burning desire to succeed. And even though he retired after the 2000 season, Thomas, 46, is still more than willing to share the secrets to his success, even if many of Tuesday's audience weren't even born when he last took a handoff.
As a guest at the sixth Fundamental Football Camp, Thomas spoke to the 90 youngsters from throughout Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties about the importance of making good decisions and becoming self-motivated, attributes that carried him through an All-American career at Oklahoma State and a Hall-Fame career at One Bills Drive.
''As a little kid I used to train with my (father and uncle) and I saw how hard they trained and how hard they worked,'' Thomas said later. ''It was one of those deals where all that motivated me.''
That motivation grew even more with each perceived slight.
One big one came during the 1988 draft. Expecting to be a certain first-round pick, Thomas watched in horror as he dropped to the second round - 40th overall - because of uncertainty about a knee injury. To make matters worse, his agonizing wait broadcast on ESPN.
''From high school to college and on TV, it was like, 'Wow, I've been dissed again,''' Thomas recalled. ''It was great motivation for me. The reason I think it was such a great motivation was because I had four or five teams that said they were going to take me (in the first round), but then you see your name fall, fall, fall into the second round. That was really a motivation.''
Thomas' biggest motivation, however, was when the Houston Oilers - his hometown team - said they were going to draft him only to select Michigan State running back Lorenzo White instead.
''After that, the motivation not only for myself, but also for my (Bills') teammates was there after the first Super Bowl (loss) and after the second Super Bowl (loss). It just kept going, trying to get it right. It eventually never did, but the motivation has been there all my life.''
Noted camp coordinator Josh Liddell: ''It was an honor and a privilege for an athlete of that caliber to come from Buffalo to speak on the message of hard work and discipline. It rang true to our campers. Making good decisions and being self-motivated are some of the mesages that they walked away with.''
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Thomas did not hesitate at all when asked to forecast the Bills' 2012 season.
''I'm definitely going to say playoffs,'' he said. ''I saw the schedule and I saw 10 or 11 wins. As a former player, it all depends on health. The last couple years, the Bills have had more players on injured reserve than anyone in the National Football League. Everybody looks good on paper.''
But Thomas is encouraged by the Bills' schedule, which includes five of their last seven games at home, and the free-agent signings of Mario Williams and Mark Anderson and the contract extensions of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Stevie Johnson and Fred Jackson.
''I'm excited,'' he said. ''I think they'll make the playoffs.''
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Thomas agrees with the NFL's increased awareness in protecting its players, particularly in dealing with concussions.
''I think it's the right thing,'' he said. ''If something goes wrong for a number of years, you have to take care of the situation. They could have done it back when we were playing or in the 1970s. It's something in the last couple years where you see these players committing suicide, people having depression and all that type of stuff and it's something they had to start taking a better stance on in protecting these players.''
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Thomas was shocked to learn that former teammate and Frewsburg native Shane Conlan was not a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
''He's not? Really,'' he said. ''That's a no-brainer. He's not in? Even when I was in college I knew Shane Conlan. That's very shocking.''
While acknowledging that former Bills' linebackers Cornelius Bennett and Darryl Talley have been enshrined, he believes Conlan deserves a place alongside them.
''Darryl was a hell of a linebacker at West Virginia,'' Thomas said, but added that he didn't have the college career that Conlan did.