When New Orleans Saints running back Pierre Thomas scores a touchdown and looks to the sky, he's not checking for rain or waiting for fireworks. He's thinking about his Grandpa Crockett, the man who passed away too soon to see what the Chicago native would become. James Crockett was a major figure in Pierre's life as a child. He died shortly after Thomas started playing football, never getting a chance to watch his grandson chase his dreams. So, instead of using touchdowns as a way to show off his dance moves, taunt opposing fans, or don a beret and mustache on the sidelines in some PR stunt, Thomas points to the sky as a sign of love and respect for his grandpa.
"I pray that he watches over me, to be my buddy and my angel on the football field."
From the looks of his team's magical season in 2009, it's clear many of Pierre's prayers have already been answered. This is a guy who wasn't sure he'd even get a shot to play in the league. Now, the University of Illinois alum is in his third year with the Saints, filling the shoes of former mentor Deuce McAllister as the "work horse" of the offense. So far this season, he's racked up 713 yards and 5 touchdowns, while averaging 5 yards a carry.
Those are impressive numbers considering the Saints use a 3-man rushing attack. The 5th ranked running unit, with Thomas operating as leader of the pack, has been a crucial factor in the team's 13-0 streak. With his unbeaten team poised to make a legitimate Super Bowl run, Pierre is approaching the rest of the Saints' season like he approaches his carries on the field. Every inch matters.
"In this league anything is possible. We can't slack against Dallas, Tampa, or Carolina. We have to finish this season out one game at a time. We have to come at each team and look at them like they're better than us."
Although Thomas avoids ESPN and sports blogs to keep perspective, he's admittedly swept away by the idea of a perfect season. When asked if he's gunning for 16-0, Pierre (thankfully) avoided the canned, "sports guy answer".
"Oh definitely! Coming into the season everybody wants to be undefeated. Before the season starts, everybody wants to get to the playoffs and to the Super Bowl. Everybody talks about 'Super Bowl, Super Bowl, Super Bowl'. Having that mindset got us on the right track and doing the right things on the football field. Being on this streak right now is amazing."
Amazing indeed. The Saints face Dallas in Week 14 having already clinched their division and a bye week. Thomas says neither he nor his teammates are oblivious to the bulls-eye on their backs. But for those who believe going undefeated could hurt the Saints' chances of getting to, much less winning a Super Bowl, Thomas says they don't need to lose to feel like they've been battle-tested going into the playoffs.
"We showed that we're not perfect. You hear it all the time. 'We should have lost the Miami game, the Redskins game, the Atlanta game, the Rams game.' But we're a team that's not gonna give up. We're gonna keep fighting. We're gonna battle back."
Battling back is an understatement when you think of how the Saints performed against the Dolphins. Down 24-10 at the half, the Saints rallied back, outscoring Miami 22-0 in the fourth quarter. Pierre calls it his most memorable game of the season.
"The Miami game was crazy because we (were) down by a lot. We were really in the process of losing that game... we should have lost that game. But it shows that we can come back. That was our first challenge, but we responded by being focused and coming back as a team."
With so many close-calls for the Saints so far this year, he knows it's premature to fully embrace the idea of a perfect season. Still, he says if the team is still undefeated come week 17 against Carolina, don't expect to see him resting up for the playoffs on the sidelines.
"I didn't work this hard to sit out the last game. I wanna play."
Of course, going unbeaten isn't the ultimate goal. Thomas and his teammates are chasing a Super Bowl championship. As for whether he'd "go to Disney World" if they won, Pierre has no clue. He hasn't thought that far ahead. What he is certain of is that Grandpa Crockett will be there, watching his grandson take his place in history.
"If we won, I'd definitely dedicate it to him. I'd feel him in spirit."
For more football from a female perspective, head to Chicks in the Huddle.