The Buffalo Bills made it to the playoffs twice in the last three seasons, snapping a streak that extends all the way back to 2000. Under Josh Allen, it seems like the team may be poised to regain some of its former glory. For Bills fans, the playoffs will always be synonymous with their heartbreaking streak of four straight Super Bowl losses in the early ’90s.
But only two teams get to the Super Bowl every season, and second place is still better than dozens of other finishers. A huge part of the ’90s Bills’ production came from Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas, whose stats give the Buffalo faithful something better to focus on when it’s playoff time.
Thurman Thomas’ path to the NFL
Thomas came out of Oklahoma State, where he briefly played alongside another young running back who would have quite an impact: Barry Sanders.
As Thomas thrived on the field, the younger Sanders had to wait for Thomas to make the pros before he truly got a shot. And Thomas didn’t slow down as he made the transition. Over his first two seasons with the Buffalo Bills, Thomas and the squad went a combined 21-11, making the playoffs both years.
The following four years were even stronger. 13-3, 13-3, 11-5, and 12-4 records like these easily led the Bills to the playoffs every season, giving them six berths in a row and allowing Thomas to thrive on the biggest stage.
A quick glance at Pro-Football-Reference‘s list of all-time playoff touchdown leaders demonstrates what Thomas brought to the table. Thurman is tied with Emmitt Smith for the most among running backs and the second-most all-time (behind Jerry Rice, who played seven more seasons than Thomas).
Continued playoff excellence
In every season from 1990 to 1993, the Buffalo Bills made it to the Super Bowl — and lost. Sometimes it was a blowout (the Cowboys racked up 52 points in 1993’s season to Buffalo’s 17) and sometimes it was agonizingly close (a missed last-second field goal in their first appearance, the 1990 season).
But every playoff run, Thurman Thomas brought his best. In the Super Bowls that were close, he did everything he could to put the team on his back.
In 2015, LeBron James should have won the Finals MVP trophy despite the Cavs losing. He played out of his mind and put up stats that no one else could touch. In the same way, Super Bowl XXV saw Thomas run for 135 yards and a touchdown while also catching five passes for 55 yards. Thomas put up significantly stronger stats than anyone in the game, but the MVP award went to the other team.
The future of the Buffalo Bills
30 years on from the first of these Super Bowls, the legacies of Thurman Thomas and the Bills are complicated. An ESPN 30 for 30 went into the details and interviewed the players involved.
Even if the team never made it over the final finish line, Thomas will always be a hero in Buffalo. Bills fans can only hope that someday Josh Allen will take the team back to the big game and they’ll get it right this time.
Although he’s not as much of a household name as Sanders or Rice, Thomas has a playoff legacy that’s hard for any player to measure up to. Not only did he step up in the postseason, but he also managed to lead the league in total yards year after year. It’s not fair to Buffalo that their legacy is one of failure. But they’ve always had the pieces to succeed, and Thomas did more than his part.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference