Those are fighting words!

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 2:19 PM ET

For those paranoid western New Yorkers who fear the day when their beloved Buffalo Bills will pack their belongings on a Lake Ontario barge and chug due north to Toronto -- permanently -- Thurman Thomas makes the following promise.

In order to keep the Bills in Buffalo, the Hall of Fame running back vowed yesterday to help in whatever way possible.

And he won't be alone either.

"You would see tons and tons and tons of former Bills flock here to offer their services, not just guys like myself and Jim Kelly and Jack Kemp," Thomas said during a phone interview from the Buffalo area. "Guys know what a great place Buffalo is to play football and how much the community gets behind the team.

"Hey, Jack Kemp has a lot of political connections."

Thomas, who already has kicked a few tires in western New York in search of corporate support, mirrored the sentiments made by Kelly eight months ago. At that time, Kelly claimed as long as he was involved, he could not see the Bills "going anywhere else."

In order to live up to those words, the ex-Bills seemingly would need to elicit some big bucks to keep the team from falling into the paws of deep-pocketed Larry Tanenbaum and Ted Rogers.

That remains the biggest fear of Buffalo-area fans: Owner Ralph Wilson, 89, will pass away; the team will be put up for auction to the highest bidder; then, when the dust settles, the Bills are Toronto-bound.

The fact that Rogers Communications shelled out $78 million to bring eight Bills games to Toronto over the next five years has helped spread the number of doomsayers who feel the Bills are not long for Buffalo.

But Thomas, for one, is not looking that far ahead. Maybe, just maybe, he said, tomorrow's pre-season matchup between the Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers at the Rogers Centre might not live up to the hype.

Thomas will enjoy the game. He just thinks it would be premature to consider it the beginning of the end.

"Maybe it won't be as spectacular an event as some might think," Thomas said. "For one, tailgating is huge in Buffalo. From what I understand, you won't be able to do it there."

Not the same way they do it at The Ralph, anyway.

Oh, sure, brewing giant Budweiser is sponsoring a tailgate party on Front St. a couple of hours before kickoff. But it won't be the same. Unlike a game day in Orchard Park, the moment Sal from Lackawana pulls out a keg and fires up the barbeque near the Rogers Centre, don't be surprised if a SWAT team swoops in to grab the booze, hoses down the sizzling brats and drags the heinous felon off in shackles.

Okay, that's an exaggeration. But you get the picture.

"Don't get me wrong," Thomas said. "I think it's going to be fun. Toronto is a great city. Let's just take the game for what it is and not look too far ahead."

During the glory days of the Bills, a magical time in the early 1990s when Thomas, Kelly and co. were winning four consecutive AFC championships, Thomas made frequent trips to Toronto, often chatting with then-Blue Jays' Robbie Alomar, Joe Carter and manager Cito Gaston.

"We'd come to Toronto all the time," Thomas said. "They have a bustling night life up there every day of the week. That's why Buffalo was such a great place to play football. If you wanted to win, Buffalo was the place. I mean, had we been playing football in Toronto at that time instead of here, we would have been out every night."

Thomas, Kelly and many other ex-Bills will join former Steeler Jerome (The Bus) Bettis at Dundas Square tonight in an event that will help fans get in the mood for the game Thursday.

"I'll try to enjoy the week," Thomas said. "But my heart will always belong to Buffalo."

In his mind, so, too, do the Bills.


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