It’s not everyday that you get to write about your boyhood idol being elected into the Hall of Fame. But that’s exactly what I get to do today. I’ve been running around my pad, doing the tomahawk chant and chop all day long. It should have never, ever taken this long, but now the best pure speed pass-rusher to every lace ‘em up is getting his bust in Canton.
I’m not going to write about the stats. Anybody can do that and everybody will. Derrick Thomas was my hero — I owe him more than that. Besides, his stats only tell half the story. Roughly a year ago, all of us Addicts voted him the COAT (Chief of All Time). There’s a reason for that.
You know that essential team identity thing I always write and talk about? D.T. gave the Chiefs team of the 90s that. He was what Larry Fitzgerald is to the Cardinals. What Ray Lewis is to the Ravens. He filled opponents’ hearts with fear and the hearts of Chiefs fans’ with fire. Like Lawrence Taylor, D.T. caused opposing offenses to dramatically alter their gameplans. The way he fired up the crowd altered offensive gameplans as well.
Arrowhead is the loudest stadium in the NFL, but it was at its loudest when Derrick was rocking the place. I’ve never seen a football player capable of hyping up the crowd the way he did. Sure, he had the uncanny ability to take over games late with his pass-rushing ability. It wasn’t just the way he took over games, though. D.T. communicated to the Arrowhead crowd with his body. He was in sync with us, and we were in sync with him. Derrick talked to us, and when he did it was sweeter than the sweetest lullaby our mothers ever sung to us.
For those of you who never saw Derrick play, he worked us into a fan frenzy. Like a Dante Hall kick return TD on Red Bull. Like Jared Allen roping the calf on steroids. With him on one side doing his thing, and Neil Smith swinging on the other — damn, that was beautiful.
I also think that his rivalry with John Elway might have been the greatest quarterback-sackmaster rivalry in NFL history. I really do. Football’s strongest arm vs. it’s speediest pass-rusher. I’ve never seen anybody throw it on a rope like Elway did. And I’ve never seen anybody come around the corner on a blitz like D.T. Elway was the comeback master. Meanwhile, D.T. wreaked a lot of his havoc in the waning moments of games. Hollywood couldn’t have written a better rivalry. We’ll likely never see anything like that again for as long as we live. Not even in the movies.
He was as good of a person as he was a player, a larger-than-life personality that Kansas City fell in love with. Derrick won the 1993 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. Ironically enough, John Elway won it the year before. Remember, only one of 1,500-plus NFL players can claim that distinction each year. Players like Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Warrick Dunn and our own Will Shields have recently won the award. That’s pretty good company.
Nasty people say nasty things. They’ll talk trash about his seven kids. Or say that he didn’t leave them behind anything. I mean, how many people leave behind over a million dollars for their kids when they die? Especially at the young age of 33 and 10 years ago? People also talk smack about his affinity for having a good time at strip clubs. Hey, we all have our virtues and our vices. I don’t recall Derrick ever getting in any trouble either.
I prefer to remember all the good times he gave us, both on and off the field. Those who met him, including some in my own family, knew what kind of special person he was. Others know that without his charity and time there would have been far less of the good times. Oh yes, and then there were the good times he gave us when he did his thing out on that field.
As far as children go, Derrick was good to them, too. That is why in 2002 The Derrick Thomas Academy, a charter school, was opened in his honor. The school serves around 1,000 children. His Third and Long Foundation charity set a precedent that current Chiefs players still strive to reach today.
On a personal level, Derrick Thomas positively influenced my life as a young man. Sure, I emulated his style in high school (where I played weak-side defensive end, almost like a Falcon position) and briefly in college any time I got sent on a blitz. But his influence went beyond the gridiron. The way he lived and played, there was just so much passion. His passion was tangible. I wanted to be that passionate about the things I did in my own life. Hopefully, you guys see a little bit of that D.T.-inspired passion on a daily basis here on the Addict. Lastly, there was his heart. He would never quit and always made big plays when you thought he had been taken out of the game. D.T. had no quit in him. He set a great example for all of us in that way, and I have never forgotten that example.
If any one showed us to never give up, it was Derrick. He did so again today, five years after he should have been elected and inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Derrick — and I think I can speak for all of Chiefs Nation here — we miss you, we love you and damn are we proud of you.