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Up Close With Thurman Thomas: Conversations on Life After The Game and Fatherhood

By Van Adams, Player Engagement Insider

In celebration of Father’s Day, we profiled a few NFL Legends to see what they have been up to since retiring from the NFL. This ‘”Up Close With” series delves into the fatherhood aspect of their lives, with particular emphasis on Legends and their daughters, and granddaughters.

Known to be formidable competitors on the football field during their playing careers, the Legends profiled for this series share sentiments on fatherhood revealing a side many outside of their homes rarely, if ever, get to see with candor and transparency. Each one beaming with pride as they talk about all of their children and grandchildren.

Thurman Thomas, the Buffalo Bills second-round pick in the 1988 NFL Draft, was a featured member of the Bills “hurry up offense” that included fellow Hall of Famers Jim Kelly and Andre Reed.

During the early 1990s the team went to an unprecedented four consecutive Super Bowl games. Thomas retired from the game in 2000 after sustaining an ACL injury and a brief stint with the Miami Dolphins.

While the Super Bowl championship ring eluded Thomas, his stellar career as a running back earned him the coveted gold jacket and enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007.

“I was 34 years old, it was my 13th year, and I knew I was done,” Thomas said. “I didn't want to go through rehabbing my knee. I felt like it was time to really focus and be a dad and not have my season and off-season tied up with football. I was ready to be tired up with my kids.”

A few years into retirement, while on a family trip to Buffalo, Thomas entertained an offer to reunite with the Buffalo Bills as an ambassador for the organization. The threat of lake-effect, snow-filled winters was a non-factor in deciding to turn what was supposed to be a short summer visit into a permanent home for the family.

“I knew I didn't want my life to just be about signing autographs, I wanted to do something a little more,” said Thomas who was involved in printing and construction businesses in his early years of retirement.

Shortly after settling back in the Western New York area, Thomas’ entrepreneurial appetite increased. He established a sports training facility, hosted a weekly sports show for the Bills, and launched Legends Energy, a power solutions company, which was recently acquired by NRG Energy.

Today Thomas, 50, is the president of 3480 Group, a certified MBE telecommunications and construction company that designs and builds Wi-Fi systems. Thomas also serves as the vice chairman of the New York State Tourism Board.

A native of Houston, Texas, Thomas played college football at Oklahoma State where he met his wife Patti, a native of Buffalo, New York who was a member of the OSU golf team. The couple has been together for nearly 30 years and has four children, daughters Olivia, 26, Angel, 24, and Annika, 19; and one son, Thurman III, 14.

More from Thurman Thomas on fatherhood:

On learning he was going to be a dad.

It was scary but exciting, especially at a young age; I was 22 years old when Olivia was born. Not only did I have to take care of my wife, but now I’d also have to take care of a kid. I didn't know what to do with a newborn. My main thing was I wanted to have a healthy baby. We knew it was going to be a girl for the first two, and then with the third baby we didn't find out because Patti told me this one (pregnancy) was totally different from the first two pregnancies so we assumed it was going to be a boy.  But then in the delivery room as the baby starts to come out, I looked at the hair and said, “That’s a girl!” (laughs) and sure enough it was another girl. Now the fourth time, we went to the doctor to find out what we were having. To know the fourth child was going to be a boy was such a relief.  If it wasn't a boy, we were going to keep trying. We were going to get that boy (laughs); my daughters wanted a brother really bad too.

On keeping strong family ties and on being focused.

My girls were (mentally) tough from an early age. They all played sports and that gave them discipline. Olivia was into softball, basketball and ran track. Angel played tennis and softball. Annika is the volleyball player; an outside hitter at 5’ 4”, she’s got hops! And Thurman plays football, basketball, and baseball.

We spend a lot of time together as a family. When the kids were growing up, we always took vacations together as a family, the older they get with schools and jobs, the harder it is to get together as much but we make it work as much as we can.

On dating.

I’ve always told them as long as they’re happy, I’m happy. My girls have always been very mature and they talk openly to me about dating and relationships. I never really had to size up their boyfriends because my girls knew from the get-go what the expectations were. Now, whenever they would go out, I was always up until they came home and I knew they are safe. That’s a dad, you know.

On the joys of fatherhood.

Seeing my girls grow up, graduate from college, get jobs, and become the beautiful women we’ve expected them to be; I couldn’t be more proud of them. Olivia graduated from the University of Florida and is working in convention planning. Angel graduated from Buffalo State College and works in marketing and Annika is working on opening a rescue dog shelter. Thurm III is still in high school but already has his sights set on the University of Florida or Vanderbilt.

Advice to new dads.

Love your kids every single day and be a part of their lives. Even if you are not with the mother, be a father to your kids; that’s your responsibility.

Van Adams is an award-winning entrepreneur and small business owner with expertise in sports business and business development. Over the last decade, she has represented a number of iconic sports celebrities and executed marketing campaigns for their personal celebrity and/or business ventures. An advocate for women in business, Van is the creator and producer of Gathering on the Greens, a women’s golf initiative, and serves as President of the Board of Directors for the NYC Metro Chapter of Women in Sports and Events where she oversees programming and strategy. Van spends her spare time in a test kitchen baking or on a golf course working on her short game.

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