Aug. 12, 2009
CANTON, Ohio - The only thing missing at the Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremony this past weekend in Canton was that great big smile.
Derrick Thomas' life and professional football career ended way too soon. One of the all-time greats in Alabama and Kansas City Chiefs history was involved in an automobile accident and died on Feb. 8, 2000 from complications arising from that accident.
"When Derrick Thomas passed from us in February 2000, I commented the light had gone out in Kansas City," said former Chiefs president and general manager Carl Peterson, who presented Thomas.
"Today, Derrick Thomas joins the company of the finest who have ever played the game of professional football. It's appropriate he takes his place beside the two great Kansas City linebackers, who are here, Bobby Bell and Willie Lanier. I know the other Chiefs Hall of Famers here, and some have passed, welcome Derrick also."
Thomas earned his place among the NFL greats last weekend as he was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame along with long-time Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson, Jr., Buffalo defensive end Bruce Smith, Pittsburgh defensive back Rod Woodson, Minnesota wide receiver Randall McDaniel and Dallas wide receiver Bob Hayes.
More than 500 family members, friends, former teammates, coaches and administrators made their way to Canton this weekend for Thomas' induction. Many former Alabama players, including Cornelius Bennett, Chris Mohr, Wayne Shaw, Thornton Chandler and Stacy Harrison were in town for the festivities, along with former Tide assistant coach Jerry Pullen, who served as UA's special teams' coach under Ray Perkins.
Thomas became the seventh former Alabama star to be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, joining Don Hutson (1963), Bart Starr (1977), Joe Namath (1985), John Hannah (1990), Dwight Stephenson (1998) and Ozzie Newsome (1999).
"For all the Derrick Thomas fans, the light has gone back on," Peterson added. "Derrick, you have fought the good fight. You have finished the race. You have kept the faith. Derrick, you're in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and no one can ever take that from you."
Thomas played four seasons at Alabama and was the 1988 Butkus Award winner and National Defensive Player of the Year after smashing the UA single season record with 27 quarterback sacks. He was a unanimous All American selection and finished 10th in the Heisman Trophy balloting.
Peterson, who drafted Thomas with the fourth overall pick out of Alabama in 1989, called Thomas "the cornerstone of the success of the Chiefs franchise in the 1990s."
Thomas's rookie year was very successful, earning him Defensive Rookie of the Year by the Sporting News, and was the first Chiefs' linebacker to be elected to the Pro Bowl in his first season since Hall of Fame player Bobby Bell. He would appear in nine Pro Bowls during his career.
"Derrick Thomas' career was meteoric," Peterson said. "He became the symbol of our team's success. We had other outstanding players at that time ... but Derrick was there the entire decade. The definition of a Pro Football Hall of Famer is he must be a game changer, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. In my opinion, there are only a handful of such defensive players in the modern era ... Lawrence Taylor, the late Reggie White, Bruce Smith, who is being honored here tonight, and yes, the late, great Derrick Thomas,"
Most well known for his ability to sack the quarterback, Thomas was an eight-time All-Pro selection, who totaled 126.5 sacks in his career and still holds the NFL single game record of seven quarterback sacks, a feat that came against Seattle's Dave Krieg in 1990.
In the 1990s, the Chiefs led the NFL with a plus-126 turnover margin. Thomas was largely responsible with more than 60 of those takeaways, which was more than the New York Giants second-place total in the decade.
He is one of only 22 NFL players to achieve 100 or more sacks, and ranks fifth all-time in Chiefs' history with 649 career tackles. In addition, he added 19 fumble recoveries and one interception. He totaled 161 fumble return yards and scored four touchdowns.
Thomas established Chiefs' career records for sacks, safeties, fumble recoveries, and forced fumbles. His 45 forced fumbles are also an NFL record.
Off the field, Thomas established the Third and Long Foundation and there is now a school in Kansas City, the Derrick Thomas Academy, named for the long-time NFL great.