JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Mike Thomas traveled to Connecticut yesterday morning and spent the day bouncing from one ESPN studio to another.
Maybe it was his 15 minutes of fame. Maybe it was his coming-out party. Maybe it was his way of getting ready for the frantic pace of fatherhood.
Either way, Thomas enjoyed every second in the spotlight.
Jacksonville's 5-8 receiver became an overnight sensation after hauling in David Garrard's 50-yard "Hail Mary" pass as time expired to beat Houston, 31-24, on Sunday. Thomas caught a ball cornerback Glover Quin tried to bat to the ground, then hopped into the end zone for the winning score.
"I think this is an icebreaker for my life," Thomas said yesterday. "I don't want to be a one Hail Mary kind of guy. I want to be an elite receiver in this league, and I think I can be."
He has the Jaguars (5-4) convinced.
Thomas finished with eight catches for a career-high 149 yards against the Texans. But his last reception is the one everyone will remember.
He trailed a few yards behind Mike Sims-Walker and Marcedes Lewis in hopes of getting the rebound. They act out the play in slow motion every Saturday, but they never envision it going like it did Sunday. It surprised Thomas, stunned the Texans and sent the Jaguars into a frenzy.
Thomas was mobbed by teammates, then mobbed by media.
Coach Jack Del Rio wanted to join in, too.
"I was heading to the pile, man," Del Rio said. "I was going to the pile. I got intercepted by the official that told me we had to kick the extra point. What a bummer, man. Going over here to have fun. Got a pile of Jaguars in the corner. I'm going to jump on top of the pile."
Del Rio and the Jaguars (5-4) won't forget the ending, which gave the NFL its fourth regular-season game to finish with a TD pass of 50 yards or more.
Del Rio has broken it down several times since, mostly for fun.
"I watch different things every time, looking at different people," he said. "Looking at the reaction of this guy or that guy."
Thomas has seen it even more often. He traveled to New York City on Sunday night, then drove to Bristol, Conn., yesterday and appeared on half a dozen or so different ESPN radio and television shows. He's coming back to Jacksonville today and will appear on NFL Network.
His schedule will get even more hectic later next week. His girlfriend is due to give birth to their first child, a girl, Monday.
Until then, this will be the best moment of his life.
"I've always envisioned something like this," he said.
Not only did it beat the rival Texans and get him national attention, it solidified his spot as Garrard's go-to receiver.
Sure, bigger targets Sims-Walker and Lewis have garnered most of the touchdowns. But Thomas, a fourth-round draft pick from Arizona last season, has emerged as Garrard's favorite target and one of the team's top offensive threats.
Thomas has 41 catches for 536 yards - both team highs - and two touchdowns. He also has eight carries for 98 yards and has returned 15 punts for 171 yards. His 805 all-purpose yards rank second on the team, behind running back Maurice Jones-Drew (921 yards).
"We keep talking about how Mike Thomas is an explosive receiver and he continues to make plays," Garrard said. "He really shows that he turns into a running back when he gets the ball in his hands. He does an awesome job with that. He does an awesome job running his routes . . . He continues to give me confidence and continues to give the coaches confidence."
Thomas already has plenty of confidence in himself.
He holds the Pac-10 record for receptions (259) and spent his first season learning from eight-time Pro Bowl receiver Torry Holt.
His emergence this season and his game-ending catch was something he always expected.
"Am I surprised? No, not at all," Thomas said. "I got a lot of God-given ability. I think it's just on me to maximize that. I'm a guy who plays with a lot of confidence. Some would say swagger, if you want to call it. I go to work every day, I work hard and try to get better. I think it's kind of become the habit and I'm just going to keep working." *