Carlson: Why Thurman Thomas deserves the first spot in OSU football's Ring of Honor
STILLWATER — Thurman Thomas isn’t the most famous OSU football player.
He might not be the best Cowboy either.
Or he might be.
There’s a pretty fun debate to be had there.
But what you can absolutely, positively say about Thomas is this — no one is better suited to be the first player in the Cowboys’ Ring of Honor.
Thomas will become the inaugural inductee during halftime of OSU’s game against West Virginia on Saturday. His name and his number, 34, will be unveiled atop the west end zone of Boone Pickens Stadium.
“It’s great to have and be the first one to go up in the Ring of Honor,” Thomas said. “I feel very honored that I’m one of the guys that elevated the program. I mean, that’s what you want to do.”
Sure, he is one of just four OSU players in the College Football Hall of Fame and one of only two in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He is a giant. But he deserves to be first in the Ring of Honor not just because he elevated OSU.
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He embodied it.
Thomas’ story is the Cowboys’ story.
Coming out of high school near Houston in the mid-1980s, Thomas was a sought-after recruit. He was the best running back in the Lone Star State, and that was as big a deal then as it is now. He made visits to Texas and Texas A&M, and the Longhorns and Aggies wanted him.
But Thomas said they wanted him to play defensive back because they were set at tailback.
During his OSU career, Thomas showed they didn’t have anyone like him. He became a three-time All-American, led the Big Eight in rushing twice and remains OSU’s all-time leading rusher with 5,001 yards.
He proved doubters wrong, and frankly, he did it at a program built on the shoulders of guys who mitigated doubts and exceeded expectations.
None did that better than Thomas.
But here’s the other thing about Thomas that makes him the perfect first Cowboy in the Ring of Honor — he was one tough hombre.
Ask guys who played with him in Stillwater, and they marvel at his tenacity.
“Thurman practiced full speed every day,” said Cowboy coach Mike Gundy, whose playing days overlapped with Thomas’ junior and senior seasons. “Blocking drills. Running. It didn’t make any difference.
“And then in games when he was in pass protection, he would step up and hit a defensive end or a linebacker right square in the mouth.”
Gundy never remembers Thomas protecting himself, even after injuring his knee the summer before his junior season in 1986.
Thomas was playing basketball when he suffered the injury, and he actually ended up having an arthroscopic procedure that year. Cowboy fans may remember him wearing a brace his last two years in Stillwater.
What Cowboy fans may not remember — or maybe even know — is that Thomas had actually a partial tear of his ACL. And in case “partial” makes it sound like it wasn’t all that severe, Thomas has since said the ligament was 85% torn.
It was more partially together than partially torn.
But Thomas played the rest of his career with his ACL hanging on by a thread. Not just the final two seasons of his OSU career, but rather his entire career, which stretched for another 13 seasons in the NFL.
There had to be pain and discomfort and concern, but Thomas never showed it.
And lest you’ve forgotten, the Cowboys had a power-based run game with Thomas. He wasn’t a speedster like Chuba Hubbard. Wasn’t a jitterbug like Barry Sanders. Thomas was a grinder at 5-foot-10, 200 pounds.
Think about the way the Cowboys played with Thomas. Not just between the tackles. Between the guards. Hard yards lots of the time.
Thomas always delivered.
“He went a hundred percent all the time,” Gundy said. “That’s really what his legacy is around here.”
Tough. Tenacious. Transcendent.
Who Thurman Thomas was is who the Cowboys want to be.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.