Sure, it stung when he didn't get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on his first chance last year. Thurman Thomas and his wife, Patti, made the trip to Detroit. They sat together in a hotel room, waiting for a call that never came. Thomas didn't bring his four children along, because he knew they'd take it hard if he didn't get in.
In the initial rush of disappointment, Thomas even considered not going to Miami next weekend for this year's Hall vote. The old Thurman would have pulled his resentments around himself, like an old, heavy overcoat, and spent the last year brooding over a perceived show of disrespect.
But you know what? Thomas got over it in a day or so. The former Bills superstar running back is 40 years old now. He has grown up. He has faced up to his alcoholism. Thomas is a doting father with the "never-ending" task of driving kids around to various events. He has found something that eluded him when he was a player. Peace.
"Thurman has grown up a lot," Patti said Friday. "That's part of growing up -- making amends, becoming men and women and letting things go. At 22, 23, my gosh, he could be difficult. He's grown into one hell of a guy, a great dad and husband. He puts forth a lot of effort for his family."
Patti said her husband wants desperately to get into the Hall of Fame. But he wants it more so for other people -- for her, for their four kids (Olivia, Angel, Anika and Thurman Jr.), for Bills fans, for his former teammates, for his friends and family, and for his mother, Terlisha.
But right now, Thurman really wants it for his beloved father-in-law. Bob Mariacher is recovering from a week-long battle with encephalitis, a potentially fatal brain inflammation. Mariacher, a former contractor, awoke from a coma last week. As of Friday, Patti said her father was on the way to recovery.
Last week, Thomas and his family flew to Buffalo from their home in Orlando, Fla. to visit Patti's dad and help out the Mariacher family. When Thomas saw his father-in-law in the hospital, he walked to his bedside, leaned down and whispered in his ear:
"I told him, 'You've got one more trip to make, man, one more trip,' " Thurman said by phone from Orlando. "He went to all four of our Super Bowls. He went to all our home games. So he's been there for me. The Hall of Fame is kind of secondary now, because all I want is for my father-in-law to get well."
After Mariacher came out of his his coma last week, Patti told her dad that Thurman needed him at Hall of Fame time. She told him he had one specific duty to take care of. Still groggy, her dad needed to be prodded. But he remembered:
"Write his speech," Mariacher said.
"Yeah, he wants to do everything," Thurman said with a chuckle. "He wants to put something in the speech where he can say, 'I told him to say that!' He and I became such good friends over the years. He was there for me when I lost my stepfather in 2002. They used to talk all the time."
Thomas would have to answer to another family member if he stayed away from Miami -- his mother. She's active in the NFL Moms group and has enlisted Thomas in a celebrity bowling event during Super Bowl week.
So Thomas will travel from Orlando to Miami, where he plans to see old friends, play mediocre golf and try not to dwell on the vote. He shouldn't fret too much. His chances are very good. The field of candidates isn't nearly as strong as last year. He is the only running back on the list.
The fact is, he deserves it. He should have gone in last year, in his first year of eligibility. For my money, he was the best Bill of them all, the most vital cog on the Super Bowl teams, a truly great running back and one of the toughest competitors and team guys I've ever seen.
"He is at peace with himself," Patti said. "He has no regrets about his career. But [the Hall of Fame] is important to him. He had such insecurity back then. He never gave himself enough credit for being as good as he was. It would upset me and his mother. I guess it was because he's such a regular guy."
Thomas was a volatile character in his day. He and I certainly had our fractious moments. But as his wife says, he was always a regular guy at heart. He told me he would probably cry if he got elected to the Hall next Saturday. In his drinking days, Thomas would feel at home sitting in the corner in the Big Tree Inn, hanging around with the old-timers like he was no one special.
Patti and her brothers joke with him all the time. Thomas would pretend it's a chore to come to Buffalo from Orlando. He'd whine about the cold. Then he gets to Buffalo and he's off with family and friends, like it's Old Home Week.
Last week, on his way to see his father-in-law at the hospital, Thomas drove near Women and Children's Hospital. He pointed out the street to his 17-year-old daughter, Olivia, and talked about taking her home from the hospital after her birth.
"I drove all the way home with my flashers on," Thomas said. "I wanted everybody to know there was somebody special here with me."
I imagine his daughter was thinking, "Dad, I know the feeling."