LACKAWANNA, N.Y. (AP) - Thurman Thomas can still carry a load. And the Buffalo Bills' Hall of Fame running back showed he's pretty handy with a shovel, too.
Knee-deep in mulch, Thomas joined numerous Bills players and team staff - including CEO Russ Brandon - by braving the rain and mud to help build a playground for preschoolers outside of Buffalo.
``I've filled a lot of wheelbarrows, and put a couple of animals together. I've carried mulch and cement and everything,'' Thomas said with rain dripping off his Bills cap. ``I'm a hard-working man.''
And it was no contest for Thomas when asked how this grunt-work compared to shedding tackles during his 14-year career, which ended in 2001.
``Oh, definitely, working like this. It's nonstop. At least on the field you get to take a break,'' he said. ``Out here it's continuous work. But it's good work. You're helping out the community.''
The Bills used their off-day in the midst of a bye week to give back in building the playground in conjunction with the NFL-United Way Hometown Huddle and Play 60 programs. It's part of a league-wide initiative designed to promote health and fitness in youngsters.
On Tuesday, it was the Bills getting a workout, with about 25 players on hand. Many arrived before 10 a.m. and worked through the afternoon to complete the project.
``To see the joy on so many people's faces, that's what it's all about,'' Brandon said, scraping mud off his running shoes. ``And it's pouring.''
The Bills (3-4) practiced on Wednesday, before taking a four-day break. They return next week to prepare for a game at Houston on Nov. 4.
``It's pretty amazing,'' said Mary Iwanenko, an administrator for Baker Victory Services, which provides special educational and therapeutic services for children. ``The Bills organization is all about supporting the community and being involved.''
Thomas' involvement wasn't a surprise to Iwanenko. She's a childhood friend of Thomas' wife, Patti, and has known him since he arrived in Buffalo in 1988.
``He's out there working up a sweat,'' Iwanenko said. ``It's awesome to see him get his hands dirty.''