Though Thurman Thomas was home in Buffalo this week, his heart and mind were in Oklahoma.
The prolific Bills running back and Pro Football Hall of Famer played college football at Oklahoma State, where he set records and earned a Heisman Trophy candidacy on the field and found a welcoming new home off the field.
"I was engulfed by the spirit of the people of Oklahoma when I went there," Thomas said. "I still have a lot of connections there and it will always hold a special place in my heart, especially this week."
The tornado that ripped through the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore earlier this week killed at least 24 people, injured more than 200, and did as much as $2 billion dollars of damage. With many good friends – including current Oklahoma State Head Coach Mike Gundy – still living in the area, Thomas and wife Patti jumped on their phones in the hours just after the tornado.
"Two of my closest buddies I gave a call and didn't hear a response back for about four or five hours so that was pretty frightening," he said. "I finally did get a hold of those two guys. When the tornado happened we were making those calls right away to get to our friends in Oklahoma."
Thomas says he visits often, and had already set up a trip for next month which he plans on extending to assist in recovery work on the ground in Moore.
"Once you get involved with that state, it's hard to get out of it," he said. "I'll make sure once I get down to Oklahoma to stay an extra few days help with relief efforts and do what I can to help."
In the meantime he took to Twitter to use his notoriety in support from Buffalo, tweeting links to donation sites and calling on followers to send thoughts and prayers to the people of Oklahoma.
In echo of a sentiment that's been repeated often in the media this week – a testament to its truth, assuredly – Thomas said that the communities in Oklahoma are as generous and thoughtful as any, and he knows they'll move through but never forget the tragedies that have so greatly shaped their recent history.
"When the Oklahoma City bombing anniversary comes up, the whole state puts down everything to go to the grave site and the memorial there," he said. "It seems like whenever there's a tragedy and years go by, they still take the time out of their busy schedule to honor those who have fallen when something bad has happened."
He compared the giving spirit of Oklahoma to that of Buffalo, where he says support for charities and after tragedies isn't just in the few months after a tragedy but all year round, year-after-year.
"The people of Oklahoma, just like here in Buffalo, they don't forget."