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Thurman Thomas NFL Draft

The Game Before the Money Podcast spoke with Buffalo Bills head coach Marv Levy about drafting future Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas in the 1988 NFL draft — in Episode 10 of the football history podcast.

The 1988 Bills Running Back Needs

The Buffalo Bills finished 7-8 in a strike-shortened 1987 season. Buffalo’s head coach, Marv Levy, was still new on the job after taking over during the 1986 NFL season.

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The Bills biggest need in the 1988 NFL Draft was for a lead running back. Buffalo’s leading ground gainer in 1987 was Ronnie Harmon, who rushed for only 485 yards rushing that season. The team stood in the lower third of the league in rushing offense. Something needed to change.

The Bills, however, lacked a first-round draft choice in 1988 after trading the pick for talented linebacker Cornelius Bennet in 1987. Bennet was a great addition, but the deal left them without a first-round pick to select a running back in 1988.

The Bills watched six running backs get drafted before it was their time on the clock. Oklahoma State’s Thurman Thomas remained on the board. 

Marv Levy Convinced to Draft Thurman Thomas

The Bills were at first reluctant to take future Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas with a 40th overall pick in the 1988 NFL draft.

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Coach Levy said, “Thurman Thomas on (the Bills draft board) as a good running back, but we had him red starred, which means, “Don’t pick him — injury problem.” He had a bad, torn-up knee. He couldn’t finish his previous (NCAA) season. Six running backs went off the draft board in the first round.”

The first of those six drafted backs was UCLA’s Gaston Green, selected by the Rams with a pick from the Bennet deal. The second, John Stephens, went to New England and was later named Rookie of the Year.

“Now we’re in the second round and finally get a pick. Elijah Pitts, our running backs coach, says, ‘Marv, We need this guy Thurman. I’ve seen them play. I’ve never seen anyone like him.’ Dah-dah-dah-dah. We went on and on.

“I called (the Oklahoma State) head coach (and asked), ‘How about him? How are his knees?’ He said, ‘His knee’s healed, I’m telling you!’

“I said, ‘All right, go ahead, take him.’ He gained more yards in his career than the other six running backs combined.”

Looking for a great NFL history book? Check out The Game Before the Money: Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL available at — Amazon.com – Barnes and Noble – University of Nebraska Press

Like sports history? Listen to The Game Before the Money Podcast! Most episodes include stories from legendary football stars.

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