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Thurman Thomas: Having No. 34 retired by Bills is 'something special'

No. 34 with the Buffalo Bills will forever belong to Thurman Thomas.

PHOTO GALLERY: Thurman Thomas through the years

The team announced Wednesday that the number will officially be retired in a ceremony on Oct. 29, when the Bills host the Patriots on "Monday Night Football."

"To make the announcement on my birthday is really something," said Thomas, who turned 52 Wednesday. "It's been a great, I guess, four or five hours since I found out that they were going to do this. ... Having my number retired is something special and something I'll remember for the rest of my life."

Thomas joined the Bills' Wall of Fame in 2005 and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008.

"I think what sets this one apart is this is where I left my mark," he said in an interview that took place on the New Era Field turf. "This is where I scored touchdowns. This is where I saw the fans cheering us on.

"If you're at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, you're just at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. You can be on the road in Miami, or New England, or New York and still see Buffalo Bills fans everywhere, so I think that makes it a little bit more special. I live here. I'm still involved with the community and still involved with the Buffalo Bills."

Thomas is the Bills' all-time leading rusher in both yardage (11,938) and touchdowns (65). He won the NFL's MVP award in 1991 after amassing 2,038 yards from scrimmage. He will become just the third player in franchise history to have his number officially retired, joining Jim Kelly's No. 12 in 2001 and Bruce Smith's No. 78 in 2016.

"I guess it kind of solidifies the top three guys for this organization," Thomas said.

Two of the three jersey retirements have taken place since Terry and Kim Pegula assumed ownership of the team in October 2014.

"I've never been a guy who talks so much about honors and awards and things like that, but when the opportunity came for the Pegulas to discuss this and having the opportunity to have your jersey retired, it came into the back of my mind that, you know, it's possible that they could do it," Thomas said. "For Kim and Terry to do this for a player that never even played for them, but they know and recognize the history of what I did here with the Buffalo Bills and what Bruce did here with the Buffalo Bills is very humbling knowing that they're doing this for me. I really appreciate that and my family appreciates it."

Thomas wore No. 34 at both Willowridge High School in Houston and at Oklahoma State. The number is also retired in both of those places. He was in a reflective mood Wednesday when thinking about joining the Bills in 1988 as a second-round draft pick from the Cowboys. The previous year, he met his future wife, Patti, when she was a freshman walk-on from Buffalo with the Oklahoma State women's golf team and he was the star running back.

"And I ended up getting drafted by Buffalo, so I have great family ties here," he said. "Really to have that family off the field here when I was younger -- to talk to and deal with some issues that I might have had early in my career -- to have her here and her family here, was very special for me. I had somebody I could talk to beside my teammates or whatever. I had my brother in laws that I could talk to and my sister in laws that I could talk to."

After living in Florida following his retirement in 2001, the Thomas family moved back to Buffalo in 2007.

"You know what, I love it here," Thomas said. "My work is not done here. One of the reasons why we moved back here was to do more work in the community. And we've done that since 2007, and we're going to continue to do that, because this is a special place for me and my family."

Thomas and his wife have four children -- daughters Olivia, Angel and Annika, and a son, Thurman III.

"Out of all my four kids, my son never got to see me play," Thomas said. "He's only been to the Hall of Fame enshrinement, and even then we was like 5 years old, so he didn't really know the importance of it, but to have him now at 16, and having my jersey retired, and being a part of a ceremony that he can actually be a part of, is something special. My first three girls, I mean, they went to all four Super Bowls. They were at the Hall of Fame as older kids. As you do get older, you do appreciate it a little bit more."

Thomas spoke with Bills coach Sean McDermott on Wednesday shortly after the announcement was made.

"He's already pumped up about it," Thomas said. "Monday night here in Buffalo, I think everybody that's here knows what it's going to be like. Hopefully there will be a celebration after the game. Going against a powerhouse, going against your nemesis on Monday Night Football, you know the fans are going to be out in the parking lot, they're going to be here Friday, Saturday, getting ready for that game. Hopefully it can end on a special note."

Several of Thomas' teammates from the Super Bowl years are expected to be in attendance for what should be a weekend-long celebration.

"I couldn't have done this without my teammates -- Bruce and Jim and Andre and Tasker and all those guys," Thomas said. "But really, these fans have been great ever since I got here in 1988. Every time I walk out on this football field, there's always a ton of '34' jerseys. That's something you love as a player, seeing your jersey all around the stadium."

Come October, that number will officially belong to Thomas alone.

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