AL HAMNIK: Life in a fishbowl suits New Orleans Saints' Pierre Thomas

2013-06-20T19:15:00Z 2013-09-16T18:51:16Z AL HAMNIK: Life in a fishbowl suits New Orleans Saints' Pierre ThomasAl Hamnik Times Columnist nwitimes.com
June 20, 2013 7:15 pm  • 

LANSING | T.F. South grad Pierre Thomas is that fur wrap from Barneys New York, that gold chain from Tiffany's.

In the words of Anchorman's Ron Burgundy: “I’m very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany.”

Difference is, Thomas has remained as down to earth as the neighborhood mailman while running the football for the New Orleans Saints.

Thursday was a rare chance to relax with friends and fans at his free skills camp, which drew nearly 100 kids. As a professional athlete, there are certain "limitations" as to what a guy like Thomas can do to just kick loose.

According to the  New Orleans Times-Picayune, Thomas is guaranteed $4.2 million of his current four-year, $11.2 million contract, so the Saints will always preach common sense to their rostered players.

They certainly wouldn't want Drew Brees to take up bull riding in the offseason.

"It's not really about if it's in your contract as to what you can or cannot do," Thomas said. "It's all about being smart. You don't want to put yourself in a position where you might get hurt and jeopardize your season and your career.

"You don't want to put yourself in a position of going jet skiing or water skiing or snow boarding and risking injury. You got to be smart with your decisions."

And that includes your social life.

"It's like drinking and driving. Why do that to yourself?" Thomas said. "Why put yourself in bad positions?"

The 5-foot-11, 215-pound former Illini star, who went undrafted, was slowed late last season by a knee injury and ended up on injured reserve.

Often used in short-yardage and red zone situations, where he's at his best, Thomas will be even more valuable in 2013 as Saints' coach Sean Payton vows to step up the running game.

So no skydiving over the Grand Canyon or snorkeling off the Great Barrier Reef.

"I have not received any 'lists' of what you can and can't do," Thomas said, smiling. "They might verbally announce it, but you're your own man."

Suppose your buds from those T.F. South days were to suggest a friendly game of hoops at the local park?

"Yeah, I'll do that," Thomas said. "But I'm not gonna go all out. I'm not gonna do a Derrick Rose and dunk on someone. I'd just go there and shoot around. It's about smart choices."

Being a Pierre Thomas or Luol Deng or Jay Cutler often means living in a fishbowl until the day you retire.

"You really don't have much freedom," said Thomas, who isn't complaining. "If I'm here in Chicago, I have a chance to sit back and kick it with some friends.

"In New Orleans, there's none of that. I don't mind but it's constant. I don't have a chance to be myself and just have fun."

The autograph seekers and paparazzi are relentless.

Thomas said he doesn't mind because he's truly blessed to be playing in the NFL, so he tries to be obliging.

On Thursday, while posing for pictures with his campers, the smiling Thomas gave each a meaningful hug, asked how they were doing and did they have fun?

The kids, shy at first, melted like ice in the Sahara.

One little boy said he was going to sleep in his red souvenir T-shirt that night.

It's that part of his can-do list Pierre Thomas loves.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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