Bills honor Thurman Thomas by retiring No. 34

Bills honor Thurman Thomas by retiring No. 34
Former Buffalo Bills running back Thurman Thomas speaks during a halftime celebration retiring his number during an NFL football game between the Buffalo Bills and the New England Patriots, Monday, Oct. 29, 2018, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes) (Jeffrey T. Barnes)

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Thurman Thomas recalled a phone call he received a couple weeks ago from former Buffalo Bills teammate Bruce Smith.

"Do yo know what it means to have your jersey retired?" Smith asked Thomas. "Do you realize the importance?"

"I do now," Thomas told to a sold-out crowd at New Era Field on Monday night. "Now that I'm here with you, I realize it even more."

The Bills retired Thomas' No. 34 during a ceremony at halftime of Buffalo's game against the New England Patriots. He is the third player in Bills history to receive the honor. Jim Kelly had his No. 12 retired in 2001, and Smith's No. 78 was retired in 2016.

With the lights turned out at the sold-out stadium, highlights from Thomas' Hall of Fame career were shown on the video scoreboard while two spotlights projected 34s onto the field.

People hold up cell phones with their flashlights on during a halftime celebration retiring the number of former Buffalo Bills running back Thurman Thomas during an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Monday, Oct. 29, 2018, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)
People hold up cell phones with their flashlights on during a halftime celebration retiring the number of former Buffalo Bills running back Thurman Thomas during an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Monday, Oct. 29, 2018, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes) (AP)

Retired ESPN broadcaster Chris Berman introduced Thomas, who was joined by his family on an elevated platform at midfield. His name and number were unveiled on a wall above the east end zone.

"When I look up and see the No. 34 retired under my name, I'll be reminded that number doesn't just belong to me," Thomas said. "It belongs to the Bills fans everywhere."

Kelly and Smith were among several former teammates who watched the ceremony on the field. Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy and former general manager Bill Polian were also among the group.

Former Bills running back Thurman Thomas walks on the field prior to an NFL football game between the Buffalo Bills and the New England Patriots, Monday, Oct. 29, 2018, in Orchard Park, N.Y. The Bills will retire the his umber during a halftime presentation. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)
Former Bills running back Thurman Thomas walks on the field prior to an NFL football game between the Buffalo Bills and the New England Patriots, Monday, Oct. 29, 2018, in Orchard Park, N.Y. The Bills will retire the his umber during a halftime presentation. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes) (AP)

Earl Campbell, one of two Hall of Fame running backs, along with Walter Payton, who inspired Thomas to wear No. 34, recorded a video message for the ceremony.

Thomas played 12 of his 13 seasons in Buffalo and is the franchise's all-time leading in rushing yards (11,938) and yards from scrimmage (16,279). He was voted NFL MVP and Offensive Player of the Year in 1991 and led the league in yards from scrimmage in four straight seasons from 1989-92.

The Bills put Thomas on their Wall of Fame in 2005, two years before he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Former Buffalo Bills running back Thurman Thomas, center, leaves the field after a halftime celebration retiring his number during an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Monday, Oct. 29, 2018, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)
Former Buffalo Bills running back Thurman Thomas, center, leaves the field after a halftime celebration retiring his number during an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Monday, Oct. 29, 2018, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus) (AP)

Nine other players have worn No. 34 for the Bills, including Cookie Gilchrist, the 1962 American Football League MVP and star of Buffalo's 1964 AFL championship team.

Oklahoma State College and Willowridge High School in Houston have also honored Thomas by retiring No. 34.

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Former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly, center, reacts during a halftime celebration retiring the number of running back Thurman Thomas during an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Monday, Oct. 29, 2018, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)
Former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly, center, reacts during a halftime celebration retiring the number of running back Thurman Thomas during an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Monday, Oct. 29, 2018, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus) (AP)

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