Buffalo Bills legend Thurman Thomas on keeping businesses in New York and the Bills' 2016 fortunes
People across the nation may recognize the name Thurman Thomas, but in Western New York the Hall of Fame running back, who spent nearly his entire NFL career with the Buffalo Bills, is a legend. Thomas, who has remained in the Buffalo area since retiring in 2000, is now looking to bring a different kind of game to the community he has called home for more than a quarter century. He and his business partners have moved the headquarters of their 3480 Group, a design and build firm that creates wireless networks in both new builds and renovations, from Atlanta to Buffalo. City & State’s Justin Sondel spoke with Thomas about his decision to stay in Buffalo, moving his business to New York and, of course, football.
C&S: What caused you to want to move your headquarters to Buffalo?
TT: You see all the growth in downtown Buffalo and it just felt like, you know what, I want to be part of that. I want to be able to help the community. I know people know me as a football player, but I want to really give something back to the community.
C&S: Was it hard to convince your business partners, given the state’s reputation as anti-business or high tax?
TT: We didn’t blink at all. Obviously taxes are high, but we didn’t blink one bit. We felt like there was something we wanted to do no matter the consequences. Governor Cuomo has done a great job of really giving tax breaks to bring companies back to Western New York and trying to get more people working there. Almost every other week or month there’s another start-up coming up or popping up in Western New York.
C&S: You came to Buffalo in 1988, and the next few decades were a pretty rough time for the city. Could you feel that during your career?
TT: It took me a couple of years to really notice the change. I was so focused on football at that time that I noticed it, but I didn’t feel at that time that I could really do anything about it. Now that you look at it I wish I would have recognized it years ago, but I was being young and being focused on my job. I really wasn’t focused on business like I am today.
C&S: After you retired you could have moved anywhere, including your hometown of Houston. What made you decide to stay in Western New York?
TT: I love the people. I love that when something unfortunate happens to somebody on a Thursday night, on Saturday morning, hundreds, thousands of people are there raising money for a family that might need something very, very quickly. Those are the type of people I really like being around. Me and my wife and my kids, we could probably move anywhere we wanted to, but we chose the Buffalo area. I’m a Bills and Sabres fan. I like being in the area and I just think with the (Terry and Kim) Pegulas purchasing the Bills and the Sabres, it makes me want to be here in the city of Buffalo a lot more. They’re just great people.
C&S: As a lifelong Buffalonian, you know I’ve got to ask a few Bills questions. What was your single greatest memory in your time with the Bills?
TT: I think the biggest memory was the first AFC Championship game over the Raiders, 51 to 3. It was electric. You go back and watch some of the old footage, the stadium was actually rocking. It was 80,000 strong. I just remember that day vividly, walking off the field, walking into the locker room, hugging Mr. (former team owner Ralph) Wilson and him just saying thanks to every single player.
C&S: What will be the Bills’ record this year?
TT: For the last five years I’ve been going with 10 and 6. I think I’m going to take it up a notch and go 11 and 5.