Thurman Thomas will remain in the AFC East, but this fall, he'll exchange the red-and-blue of the Bills, for the aqua-and-orange of the Dolphins. After 12 years in Buffalo, the ninth-leading rusher of all time signed a three year contract with Miami, marking the end of an era for the Bills.
The Buffalo Bills had a mighty threesome, rivaled only by the Denver Broncos in the AFC, and the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC throughout the 1990's.
But as the NFL enters a new decade, it bids adieu to one of the best trios the league has ever seen. When the Bills waived Andre Reed, Bruce Smith and Thurman Thomas in early February it marked the end of an era in Buffalo.
It's not often a team can lay claim to having three of the best players at their positions in the history of the game. The Cowboys, with Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith, or the Broncos' John Elway, Terrell Davis and Shannon Sharpe, are usually the first to come to mind. Perhaps just one Super Bowl win would have changed that. Still, there's no disputing the impact Reed, Smith and Thomas had on the NFL. The three were the victims of the salary cap. The Bills needed to slash more than $10 million to get under the $62.2 million cap. That meant saying goodbye to their veteran stars, the players who helped lead them to four straight Super Bowls.
The first thing that comes to mind for many when Thomas' name is mentioned is his gaffe in Super Bowl XXVI when he missed the first two plays of the game after misplacing his helmet.
However, opponents have always been aware of his ability. Doubts about Thomas' health caused him to slip all the way to the 40th pick in the 1988 draft. He made teams pay for passing him up, rushing for more than 1,000 yards in eight straight seasons. Thomas was the NFL MVP in 1991 and ranks seventh all-time in rushing.
Reed is probably the least recognized of the three. Coming from little-known Kutztown University in Pennsylvania, that's not surprising. But he quickly established himself as one of the top receivers in the game. He has more receptions than any player in the Hall of Fame. Only Jerry Rice has more catches than Reed's 945. Reed also climbed into fourth place on the yards receiving list with 13,095.
However, Reed had become disenchanted with his role as the 1999 season wore on. It was obvious he wouldn't be back. Shortly after his release, Reed expressed his excitement at being let go on his own Web site, saying he had been waiting for the day he would be released. Unlike Reed, Smith entered the league with big expectations placed on him as the No. 1 draft pick. He immediately lived up to his billing by being named AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Smith would go on to win NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors in 1990. He ranks first all time with 14 1/2 postseason sacks and his 171 regular-season sacks places him second all-time behind Reggie White. Smith will have an opportunity to add to that total as a member of the Washington Redskins. The 11-time Pro Bowler signed with the Redskins days after his release from the Bills.
Despite Hall of Fame credentials for all three players, their cards are readily available to collectors at reasonable prices. Smith is the most expensive of the three. His 1986 Topps rookie books for $150 at Mint 9 in the March issue of the Sportscard Market Report. A signed Smith football books for $125. Thomas' 1989 Score rookie is valued at $65 in Mint 9. A signed Thomas football carries a $135 value. More recent Smith and Thomas cards, and most Reed cards, can be had for a few dollars.