When Lynwood native Pierre Thomas walked on the field for the 2010 Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints, he knew he was living a true dream. The T.F. South graduate started as a baseball player in his youth — Lynwood didn’t have any youth football teams at the time — and Thomas’ mother, Greta, gave her all to assure Pierre Thomas had opportunity.
Pierre Thomas was inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame on Sept. 14, recognizing a career that ended with 38 career starts and a Super Bowl ring in a nine-year career. I spoke with Pierre Thomas on the phone last week about his long, winding and unlikely football journey.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: How did you pick up football?
A: Football, of course I just played in the backyard with my friends. … One day, one of the kids from school, his father came to pick him up, and he came early. He saw us out there playing, and he spotted me, and he coached for … the Lansing Lions, which I didn't know organized football. … Once he saw me out there playing, and we were done, he came up to me and said, “Hey, have you ever thought about playing organized football?” I said, "No." … From there, (my mother) talked to him, and she came to ask me, “Is this something that you really want to do?” I said, “Yes, I want to try it out. It's another sport. I mean, I love playing with my friends. Why not try and see if I can play it for real?” That's how it all started.
Q: How important was your mother’s support as you grew into the football player and the man that you are?
A: She supported me. She didn't want me playing at first. She thought I was going to get hurt, but I knew within me that I can play the sport, and I can get it done. … She always took care of me. I mean, my father was there, here and there, but they got a divorce so they were split, and I was living with my mother. My father wanted me to stay playing baseball, but my mother just wanted me to be happy.
Just for her to allow that to happen, I wanted to make sure I do this right, and I wanted to prove to her, you're not wasting your money. I'm not wasting my time. … She knows how much I love her for supporting me and paying for some of these leagues for me to be in. So I thank her so much, because she has a lot to do (with) where I'm at now in my life.
Q: You got the first carry in Super Bowl XLIV. What was it like walking out onto that field knowing that you represented the work that you and your mom had put in?
A: It seemed like it wasn't real. But as we got closer to the game, and it started to dawn on me, and I'm out there on the field, it's like, “This is it. This is the moment.” Not just myself, but other players, other guys, other kids … dream about this moment right now. They dream about being here, because this is the top. … The only thing that's higher is actually being the winner. …
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I told myself (this), and I also gave a speech to some kids on the baseball team at T.F. South after I won the Super Bowl. I think it was the following year. They were going to a championship game as well and I believe they won it. I told them — and this is how I felt doing this, during the time of the Super Bowl — it's just another game. … If and when it came down to the very end, we'll see what the end results are. And when I won it, that's when you could say all the emotions exploded. I was crying, happy, cheerful, laughing. All of it.
Q: What aspect of going into the Saints Hall of Fame stands out to you the most?
A: I wasn't expecting to, when I went to college, win the Heisman. I wasn't expecting that. I just wanted to play this sport. I wasn't expecting to be a Pro Bowler or in the the Hall of Fame of the NFL, breaking any records. I wasn't expecting any of that. …
I feel like this was already my destiny, because (of) the way God put everything that was going through my life, people he's putting in front of me and people (who) were constantly staying in my life.
One of my coaches from college, Greg McMahon, he spotted me in high school when I … played against his son. He spotted me, and I did a great job against his son's team, and he told Illinois about me, and Illinois sent somebody down to recruit me.
I'm at Illinois now, he's my coach and he moves on to the league. I'm still in college. He tells the Saints about me. I go there because I had an inside guy, and I was starting to see a path there. … But I wasn't really expecting anything.
I was going out here, just doing my job and just being the person I am: humble, respectful, and just honored to be on the field and playing ball and putting joy into people's lives, especially to a city that went through a tragic moment like Hurricane Katrina. …
It's just an unbelievable story, if you ask me, of how everything came about, and I'm just grateful. I wouldn't have thought that that honor — if somebody would've told me (I) will be in the Saints Hall of Fame, I wouldn't have believed them.
Q: If you had one message for young football players in the Region who want to get to where you've been, what would it be?
A: Believe in yourself. Never give up. Work hard, and do not listen to the naysayers. Always carry a positive mindset, because negativity is going to be thrown at you from so many different angles. Remain positive throughout this whole journey. As long as they do that, work hard, dedication and sacrifice — because a lot of things, you will have to sacrifice in life. If they follow by that and just believe in themselves, I believe that the sky's the limit for anybody.