With or without his helmet. I don’t care if he forgets his pants, his shirt and his socks this time. Just give me those legs, those hands, wind him up and let him go. I will have the advantage in this Super Bowl by a very simple rule:

Arithmetic.

Two is more than one.

Thurman Thomas can run and catch.

Hey. This guy averages 4.6 yards each time he runs the ball and 10.6 yards each time he catches it. Take that, Emmitt Smith. And how many times do people yell at Smith, “Yo, stupid, where’s your helmet?”

Which brings me to an important point: Mr. T has something to prove. He wants to prove he’s grown up. He wants to prove he is not the petulant, whining, forgetful, excuse-making, self-absorbed noodnik he was a year ago.

Remember last Super Bowl, when he pulled the classic public relations belly flop, complaining loudly one day about “lack of recognition,” then failing to show up the next day for 1,000 reporters?

And then, come game time, he rushed for a grand total of 13 yards?

Times change. Check out my man yesterday:

“I let myself down last year. To talk about respect, then play one of the worst games of your career, that’s not the way it’s supposed to be. Not only myself, but this team, has grown up a lot. We’ve learned our lesson.”

Huh? Huh? Does that show you something? This is not the same old Rodney Dangerfield of the Gridiron. Oh, he still burrows through holes and bounces off defenders. He still catches passes and jukes out of tackles. He still piles up yardage and touchdowns.

But off the field, he doesn’t snipe at his rivals anymore. When you mention Emmitt Smith or Barry Sanders, he doesn’t make a face that suggests constipation.

Why, he even went toe-to-toe with Mr. Smith on Wednesday night. They met by accident, shot the breeze, and talked about who was taller.

“Well?” someone asks. “Who is taller?”

“I am,” Thomas says, reflexively, then, as if remembering his manners, he pulls off his cap and rubs his head. “Actually, Emmitt has more hair than me so, uh, maybe he’s taller.”

What’d I tell ya?

Give me Thurman Thomas.

Now. Let’s not forget: Thomas, 26, has been at this longer than Emmitt Smith. He is hardly a flash in the football pan. In fact, Thomas has been leading the league in total yards from scrimmage since before the U.S. went into Iraq — the first time. He is the cornerstone of a Bills offense that racks up points the way McDonald’s racks up customers served. And for the first time since the playoffs began, he is completely healthy.

Did I mention that Thurman is no longer jealous of his rivals? Listen:

“Did you see Emmitt did the Arsenio Hall show this week?”

“Yes,” Thomas says.

“Did you do the Arsenio Hall show?”

“No, I’m not that Big Time. Emmitt’s on America’s Team, man.”

Hmmm. OK. So maybe a little smoke was coming from his nostrils. But he bit his tongue, which is more than the old Thurman would have done. The old Thurman would have burst onto the Arsenio set and unplugged the cameras. This, after all, is a guy who was so upset that he did not win the MVP award in Super Bowl XXV, that the next season, when the Giants and Bills met, Thurman painted “SB XXV MVP” on his shoes.

Hey. If they won’t recognize him, he’ll recognize himself.

“I’m not thinking about that kind of stuff now,” he says. “I’m just trying to win a Super Bowl.”

And settle a few scores. If you’re not convinced that making up for forgetting both his helmet and his running game last year is motivation enough, well, consider this: Jimmy Johnson, the Dallas Cowboys’ coach, recruited Thomas to go to Oklahoma State back in the early ’80s. Just before Thomas said yes, his mother asked Johnson if he’d be there all four years her son played football.

“I will,” Johnson said.

The son committed to OSU.

Two weeks later, Johnson left for Miami.

“It was heartbreaking,” Thomas says. “I was disappointed. But I made my commitment and I wasn’t going to sit out a year to go somewhere else.”

Hmm. Wouldn’t it be fitting if Thomas took a handoff this Sunday, burst through the line, raced for a touchdown, and on his way back, trotted past Johnson and whispered, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Thomas.”

Give me Thurman.

Did I mention Thomas was no longer jealous of his peers?

Really. Check this out. The other night, he was on the town in LA, and he bumped into Magic Johnson, whom he knew, and Ron Harper and Mark Jackson, whom he didn’t. And he introduced himself to the new guys! That’s right. He didn’t assume they would know who Thurman Thomas was, just because he’s made the Pro Bowl four years in a row.

“I felt like asking for their autographs,” he says.

Autographs? Thurman Thomas?

Yes. And when someone asks if he wouldn’t prefer to be in a major advertising market like LA, rather than the frigid quiet of Buffalo, Thurman now says: “It’s too fast for me here. I’m a Southern boy. I started in Houston, not too fast, not too slow. Then I went to Oklahoma, a little slower, then Buffalo, a little slower.”

He laughed.

“Next stop, Green Bay.”

A joke? He told a joke? I’m telling you, this is a new man. Relaxed. Self-effacing. Give me Thurman Thomas. He will get out there Sunday and show Arsenio a thing or two. He will get out there Sunday and show Emmitt who’s got more hair. He will get out there Sunday and unleash all this pent-up energy of Super Bowls lost and opportunities denied, and Dallas will have as much chance of stopping him as they’d have of stopping a hurricane. Give me Thurman Thomas.

And give me an extra helmet.

Just in case.

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