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) will practice 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."


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