Andrew Thomas ran around the house screaming for joy on Christmas morning.
What other reaction should a surprised preteen boy have to unwrapping a brand new PlayStation 3?
“Christmas for us wasn’t always about the gifts, but we were fortunate to have our family,” Thomas said. “I grew up in a two-parent household, and my grandmother would cook for every big holiday. There were some Christmases we might not have presents, but when I was 12 or 13, I wasn’t expecting much, and somehow, some way, my parents got me the PS3.”
A decade later, Thomas’ virtual likeness is part of one of the most popular video games — as the Giants’ $32 million rookie left tackle in “Madden NFL 21” — and he is one who created Christmas memories for children.
From afar, and with the help of his parents and local businesses, Thomas partnered with his hometown’s mayor and local businesses on a drive that gave away 50 turkeys and provided gifts off the wish lists for five select families impacted by the pandemic in Lithonia, Ga.
“We put together some bags to make people feel a little better during this time,” Thomas said. “I want to help out my community as much as I can — not just with giving, but I’m thinking of planning things around how to manage money and pay your bills. Having this contract to help others is a big thing.”
Thomas recreated his childhood Christmases by flying in his parents, sister and girlfriend to fill his new home with the smell of soul food after Friday’s Giants practice. In this most unusual season, he had all visitors tested and cleared for COVID-19 at the team facility to make certain he is on the field Sunday when the Giants visit the Ravens.
Points could be hard to come by for the Giants.
“Their defensive front is crazy — they rotate a lot of good players in there,” Thomas said. “Some big, strong two-gappers up front who allow their linebackers to make a lot of plays and rushers who come in on passing situations.”
Thomas’ rookie season has been a roller coaster: An encouraging debut, a nightmarish next six games and a five-game stretch where he turned a corner. Or so it seemed.
The past two games are a true microcosm: Thomas was whipped by the relatively unknown Haason Reddick for an NFL-high seven pressures and two sacks in Week 14 — only to recover by going quietly unnoticed against fierce pass-rusher Myles Garrett. How does that make any sense?
“It’s a mentality thing,” Thomas said. “You understand that, every week, you have to be prepared. You can’t think anybody in the NFL is not capable of doing their job because they are the best at it. Once a game is over with, that’s in the past. There were some things I put on tape [against Garrett] I was proud of, but there were plays I need to work on, and I take those to next week.”
The Giants offensive line was in a difficult spot two weeks ago because Daniel Jones was a sitting duck playing on two leg injuries. Jones’ mobility looked better in practice this week, which allows Thomas greater margin for error protecting the blind side. He is likely to get heavy doses of six-time Pro Bowler Calais Campbell and Pernell McPhee, with team sacks leader Matthew Judon on the other side.
If anyone is forgiving of Thomas’ ups and downs, it’s Jones, who went through them as a rookie last season.
“I’ve been extremely impressed with how he’s handled it,” Jones said. “That’s a tough position to step in and play in the NFL. You’re going up against a lot of the best athletes on the field in those pass rushers. His learning process has been one he’s really attacked. His approach every day has been the same. I think he’s going to be a great player.”
In keeping with the NFL tradition of quarterbacks rewarding their offensive linemen at Christmas, Jones ordered each an arcade-sized Pac-Man. More video games to excite Thomas, who skipped the running around this time to save his energy for making Jones’ life easier Sunday.
“I wouldn’t say it takes extra,” Thomas said. “With him being hurt, that’s something you worry about. But, even when he’s 100 percent, we’re focused on not letting anybody touch the quarterback.”