"I always thought the idea that calling a last second time out right before a kicker is about to get to the ball was somewhat of a fallacy," Thomas said. "If anything, it makes the kicker even were determined to get it through the uprights. That was my experience, anyway."
In a 1983 game against the Bears, the Packers tried a different technique in an attempt to get Thomas to miss.
"This was a year when the Bears were trying to go 8-8 so nothing much was at stake for Chicago. For Green Bay, however, it was a completely different matter Bart Starr was in the twilight of his career and the rumor was this would be his last game for Green Bay. The Packers needed this one win desperately. It was their only hope of reaching the playoffs that year."
It was one of those desperately cold December days that Green Bay and Chicago fans know only too well.
"It was really bad out," Thomas said. "One of the worst days I can remember. I'm not certain what the wind chill was that day, but my guess it was 30 or 40 below at least. The wind was whipping through Soldier Field and every single person in the stadium was almost frozen. I tried to get as close as I could to the on field heater, but Steve McMichael beat me to it. I asked him if he'd move but he made it very clear that wasn't going to happen. I decided to stand there and try to warm up any way I could.
"It was coming down to the last play of the game. The Packers were ahead, 21-20.The Bears had a good drive going and we came within field goal range with ten seconds left. I went out on the field. Usually in that situation, the opposing players will try to rattle you by shouting or doing anything they can think of to break your concentration. This time, however, was completely different. They were begging me to go wide, "Please Bob, just miss the darned thing" I couldn't believe my ears.
"Being a diehard Bear, I took particular pleasure in sending that ball straight through the uprights. Chicago won, 23-21. Since then, I've been known as the kicker who cost Bart Starr his career."
Thomas had many such moments during an ten-year career with Chicago from 1975-84,but perhaps none as completely satisfying as seeing Green Bay go down to defeat that cold Sunday afternoon. But his life since leaving football has been equally noteworthy.
Thomas realized that a career after football was by no means assured, so he decided to go to Loyola law school in 1977 while still playing for Chicago. The decision had the full encouragement of Jim Finks, who was the team's general manger from 1972-84.
"I felt that I should clear it with the Bears organization before I embarked on this endeavor," Thomas said. "I was so pleased that Jim was entirely supportive of my decision."
Thomas attended school part-time during the season and fulltime when the Bears were not playing. He graduated in four years and began practicing part-time in 1981. After being released by the Bears before the start of the 1985 season, Thomas was signed by San Diego where he remained for a year. He had a stint with the New York Giants in 1986, before retiring from football to focus completely on his career in law.
Thomas' success in the legal field went far beyond his original aspirations. He was elected to the Circuit Court in 1988 then was elected to the Appellate Court in 1994 where he served for six years. In 2000 he was chosen to be a member of the Illinois Supreme Court and has recently been named Chief Justice.
"It's been amazing really," Thomas said. "I loved playing football and I certainly enjoy being a judge. How many people have the opportunity for two such satisfying careers in their lifetime?"
Thomas led the Bears in scoring five times and still stands third on the Bears All-Time list with 629 points, an achievement he credits to his ability to concentrate completely on the job at hand.
"When you are out there on the field and the game comes down to whether or not you are able to make the field goal, it's an incredible experience. What you do as a kicker is to shut out everything but the uprights and the ball. Pressure is no problem. That's the kind of situation a kicker is born for. It's all a matter of concentration and execution. I've found that the ability to shut out distraction has served me well in law as well."
Thomas did concede that quite a few kickers hear comments from their teammates regarding their athletic abilities, or lack thereof.
"That's an old joke," Thomas said. "You'll hear somebody say that you aren't a physical player because you aren't out there making hits. Or there will be some remarks about your uniform still being clean at the end of a game. But I see a kicker's role as essential to the success of any football team. We have a specialized role and we excel in that skill. Sure some of us have quirks, but it's all part of the job. It's how we prepare to be successful both in football and in life."