Saturday's event featured the statue unveiling for Heisman winner Sam Bradford. It also turned out to be a night Thomas will never forget.
“Because I played for the Rams four years in L.A., I thought they might want me to say a little something for Sam,” Thomas said. “I thought Archie was going to be the principle speaker for Sam. I was surprised when he presented me with that (commemorative) football. It's humbling.”
Selected the best football player to come out of Southeast High School by The Oklahoman four years ago, Thomas was a consensus All-American for the Sooners in 1957.
Thomas topped the nation in scoring in 1956 and led the Sooners in scoring as a junior and senior. He finished his career with 2,156 rushing yards. He never averaged less than 6.3 yards per attempt.
"He deserved this it a long time ago,” said Jimmy Harris, the Sooners quarterback in the mid-1950s. “He was big for running backs at that time. If we needed two yards, we'd always give him the ball. He could hit the hole better than anybody.”
Thomas played a key role in the Sooners' all-time record 47-game winning streak. During his three seasons, OU was 31-1.
“Five different teams contributed to that streak,” Thomas said. “We felt bad about that one loss, but Coach (Bud) Wilkinson told us after our last game that it would never be broken. I thought some team would break it. Amazingly, it's still stood for 53 years.”
A second-round selection, Thomas played 11 years in the NFL with the Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers. Playing primarily defensive back, because of his size and speed, Thomas was considered one of the top athletes in the league.
Selected to the 1963 Pro Bowl and a three-time second team All-Pro selection, Thomas played in 137 professional games. He compiled 27 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries.
Thomas, 75, is a member of the Steelers Legends team. He also intercepted a Paul Hornung pass and returned it for a touchdown.
"He was a really good athlete," Harris said. “He had good size and speed.”
One of 15 players selected by the National Football Foundation College Hall of Fame announced on Tuesday, Thomas will be inducted at the NFF dinner on Dec. 6 at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. He will officially be enshrined in the summer of 2012.
“There are a lot of great players that have played this game,” Thomas said. “The odds are not real good (to be selected). With all the great teammates I had, this is humbling.”
OU has 19 players and five former coaches in the College Football Hall of Fame, tops in the Big 12.
Thomas said what made the honor even more special was he had the opportunity to talk with former teammates at Saturday's event.
“I even got to see some OU team members that were older than me for that deal for Sam,” Thomas said. “The wonderful thing was to see all those guys like Jakie (Sandefer) and Bill Krisher. It was really neat to see all those guys.”