AL HAMNIK: Pierre Thomas won't let fear knock him off his game

2014-06-24T18:30:00Z 2014-08-27T23:39:06Z AL HAMNIK: Pierre Thomas won't let fear knock him off his gameAl Hamnik Times Columnist nwitimes.com
June 24, 2014 6:30 pm  • 

Admit it. You love watching the National Football League because it's a brutal ballet of uncanny skill, bloodlust and fingernails-in-the-couch drama.

The game takes its toll on body and mind, as a caveat.

Mike Ditka can barely walk because of bad knees, back and hips. Jim McMahon has made news lately, claiming he's battling early stages of dementia.

Both were tough guys who took an absolute beating on the field. They're the reason why more than 2,400 former players were suing the NFL for concussion-related dementia and brain trauma.

It's been said the average playing career in the NFL is 3.5 years, though NFL commissioner Roger Goodell argues it's "very close" to six years.

Either way, we're talking short-lived.

Pierre Thomas has been lucky. The New Orleans Saints' star running back, entering his eighth season, is as tough and determined as they come with the football. It's why he was given a two-year extension recently, keeping him under contract through 2016.

But does the T.F. South grad stop to think of the risks involved in this game and any future consequences to body and mind after retirement?

"No, I'm not worried about down the road," Thomas is quick to say. "Concussions are going to happen. You never know when or where, sorry to say, but it's a violent sport and lately it's been happening a lot."

All the more reason for the NFL to wave a red flag.

Thomas said he has suffered only one concussion as a pro – in the 2011 playoffs against San Francisco – and that's remarkable considering he's had 773 career carries in 94 regular-season games alone.

"I wish for everyone's safety but when you're running the ball and catching the ball, when you've got a defender coming at you trying to make a nice tackle  and you're trying to protect yourself ... one of the guys might get knocked out," Thomas said.

"I'm not worried about it at this time. I'm going to keep doing what I have to do."

Thomas appeared in all 16 regular-season games, started nine, and still led the club in rushing with 549 yards. He was the team's No. 2 receiver with a career-high 77 receptions for 513 yards.

Those 77 catches led all NFL running backs in 2013.

Thomas held his fourth youth football skills camp Tuesday at T.F. South and drew a large, eager crowd despite occasional rain and the high humidity.

This was a day for kids to get out of their house, sweat a bit, "participate" in various activities, learn teamwork and life skills, all free of charge.

Look at Pierre Thomas today. He wasn't drafted out of the University of Illinois but is now among pro football's elite running backs. That fearless determination remains a staple of his game.

Can't worry about injuries, though. That's a no-no.

"That's when you're going to get hurt. That's when it takes you off your game," Thomas said. "I'm not going to let it take me off my game. I'm going to stayed focused.

"I'm going to leave it in God's hands to keep me healthy, keep me safe, during my career."

So far, the Almighty and the Saints' O-line have been terrific blocking for Thomas.

Can't beat that teamwork.

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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