Right guard Randy Thomas was in a hurry, departing Redskins Park yesterday to join fellow offensive linemen for dinner at Sweetwater Tavern, a restaurant a few miles away in Sterling. With Thomas's favorite pastime approaching, the six-year veteran already envisioned what he would order: For appetizers, two servings of crab fritters (six pieces each) plus Texan wraps (filled with chicken). Thomas's main course would be barbecued prime rib (20 ounces) and another slab of ribs (14 ribs).
"Don't forget about my dessert," Thomas said.
"Chocolate waffles," Thomas said, smiling hungrily.
Thomas, 28, is renowned for a ravenous appetite that spurs him to find all-you-can-eat buffet restaurants twice a week and occasionally enter eating contests.
"I just love the taste of food," said Thomas, who owns a restaurant, R.T.'s Wings and Flava, near his home town of Jonesboro, Ga., that his mother runs using many of her recipes. "It makes me happy to sit around and order what I want to eat and get full. I'm blessed to do that."
Thomas's renowned eating habits have had little effect on his 6-foot-5, 306-pound frame. Thomas isn't especially bulky for an offensive lineman in the NFL, who often resemble sumo wrestlers. Thomas's agility and speed belie his towering physique -- a special blend that he has used to become one of the league's best right guards.
Interior offensive linemen are often the most anonymous players on the team -- they generally don't receive notice unless they're being beaten for sacks or committing gaffes. During Sunday's 17-10 victory over the Detroit Lions, Thomas forcefully plowed holes that running back Clinton Portis burst through for 147 yards on 34 carries, and quarterback Mark Brunell went without a sack. Thomas's performance was particularly impressive because it came against one of the league's best defensive lines. Thomas was rewarded with one of the few game balls handed out by Coach Joe Gibbs.
Thomas "played very physical and was a big part of our running game," Gibbs said Monday. "I feel like Randy really had his best game."
When Gibbs gave his players Monday off, Thomas had an early start on finding an all-you-can-eat buffet. The Mississippi State product uses Mondays and Wednesdays to visit buffets or scour the Washington area for new places to try.
"Mentally, it's so satisfying [attending a buffet] because when you get there you can start eating because it's prepared and it's a lot," said Thomas, whose favorite foods are "everything," but especially seafood and Chinese food. "And when they run out, they cook some fresh. My game plan for a buffet is to eat as much as you can to get to the fresh food."
Thomas's culinary philosophy has gotten him politely kicked out of certain establishments. When the team is on the road, Thomas often finds a seafood place with left tackle Chris Samuels and left guard Derrick Dockery. The threesome eats so much that the tab is usually $200, with Thomas consuming most of it. During the offseason, Thomas twice invited about 15 teammates to his home for a spread including ribs, chicken wings, hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad and baked beans. But Thomas sometimes has difficulty getting teammates to join him at an all-you-can-eat joint.
"I couldn't eat that much," said the 6-6, 345-pound Dockery. "But he's a different dude, a different cat."
Defensive end Phillip Daniels (6-3, 288) said: "He doesn't show it. He must have some crazy metabolism that burns it up."
Thomas runs and blocks better than most NFL offensive linemen. His physical gifts make him important in Gibbs's running schemes. Thomas pull-blocked several times on Sunday to create gaping holes for Portis on the outside. He also excels blocking on screens and reverses. "He's a great puller," Samuels said. "When he pulls, he's faster than most other linemen."
Despite his athletic ability, Thomas takes the most pride in his technique, especially using his hands and finishing crisply on blocks. Coaches praise Thomas for his leverage, which provides an edge against defensive linemen. Dockery said he marvels watching film of Thomas staying low to the ground while blocking.
The first time tackle Jon Jansen spoke to Thomas on the phone, in March 2003, Thomas was indecipherable because he was talking with food in his mouth from a local restaurant.
Thomas had called Jansen to tell him that he would be playing next to Jansen on the right side of the line after signing a seven-year, $28 million contract, including the fattest bonus in NFL history for a right guard: $7 million. Thomas said that he doesn't feel any pressure from the record deal. "I think I've earned every dime I've got," Thomas said.
Last season, Thomas was the best performer on a line sharply criticized because the Redskins gave up 43 sacks. Thomas, who didn't miss a snap and was Washington's only lineman to avoid being called for a false start penalty, was named an alternate to the Pro Bowl.
Before the 1999 Cotton Bowl, Thomas made history at Lawry's Steakhouse in Dallas by eating nine prime ribs in a contest. Thomas's eating habits became so well known that last summer FHM magazine set up a grilled-shrimp eating contest with an Alexandria resident, Sonya Thomas (no relation). When the woman appeared for the contest, at an Outback Steakhouse, Randy Thomas said he couldn't help from laughing because she weighed about 100 pounds.
The winner was whoever ate the most shrimp in 10 minutes. Thomas ate 11/2 pounds of shrimp, yet it paled in comparison to his competitor, who devoured 61/2 pounds. Thomas felt embarrassed and devastated. "As if I lost a game," Thomas recalled, with no levity.
Thomas took consolation in the fact that Sonya Thomas was ranked the top-rated speed eater in the nation by an organization called the International Federation of Competitive Eating. The best thing about the competition, Thomas said, was being able to take about eight pounds of shrimp home that lasted less than a week.
"That was part of my game plan," Thomas said, grinning. "They say it is going to catch up to me one day, so let me eat what I can right now."