Our “Remembering Derrick Thomas” series continues, as today several staff members pay homage to the man we called D.T.
The NFC was considered dominant throughout most of the 1990s. That dominance however did not extend to NFC match-ups with the Chiefs. The Chiefs were the only AFC team that truly owned the NFC during that era. The Chiefs were the one team that every NFC team dreaded facing during the regular season and beyond. One Chiefs player stood above the rest in embodying that dominance and animated the sense of panic felt throughout the NFC and in the heart of every NFL quarterback and offensive coordinator. That player’s name was Derrick Thomas.
For me, Derrick’s epic moment came on September 6, 1998, the season opener at Arrowhead against Jeff George and Gruden’s Raiders. The Raiders were pinned in their own endzone. George had already been sacked five times by DT that night. Derrick raised his hands above his head, held them together and “called the shot” for the Arrowhead faithful. George never had a chance. That game, that singular effort, remains as warrior poetry echoing through the ages.
Ah, Derrick Thomas. You made Chief defense fun again. To watch you on third and long, screaming around the tackle with this ungodly ability, was a thing of beauty. No one was better with the outside speed rush. It wasn’t just the sack, it was the tomahawk chop that often caused a fumble. That strip move is a staple today. You made it your trademark. Along with Neil Smith you took a good Chief defense and made it great. How many times did you kill an opponent’s long drive with a turnover? How many times did you set our offense up with a short field with a strip? How many times did the quarterback throw the ball early, causing a interception or an incomplete pass? Many, many times. Your career was too short, the wait for the Hall of Fame too long. Now we can celebrate you taking your rightful place along with other great Chief linebackers Bobby Bell and Willie Lanier.
My favorite memory of Derrick Thomas is the same as many Chiefs fans, but also for the backdrop of one of DT’s greatest accomplishments — the seven sacks in one game versus Seattle in 1990. It was (surprisingly) written and nicely captured by former US Senator (MO) and Attorney General, John Ashcroft in 2000. He delivered the following statement to the President and the Senate:
“Chiefs fans will never forget the day in 1990 when No. 58 set the amazing single-game record of seven sacks in a game against the Seattle Seahawks on Veterans Day. What some people don’t know is that Derrick dedicated his efforts on Veterans Day to his father, an Air Force pilot killed in Vietnam in Operation Linebacker II when Derrick was just five.
“The fighters from nearby Whiteman Air Force Base periodically do a fly-by during pre-game ceremonies. The planes, according to Derrick Thomas, reminded him of his father and provided inspiration for some of his greatest and most spectacular performances. I have been at Arrowhead Stadium before games for those pre-game ceremonies, when in the parking lot there was tailgating, with the smoke from the barbecue and the roar from the jets as they crossed the field in a fly-by. It is a moving experience, but it moved none of us as much as it moved Derrick Thomas, who set records based on the inspiration that reminded him of his dad.
“Derrick will, no doubt, enter the pantheon of Kansas City’s great athletes — George Brett, Tom Watson, and Len Dawson, just to name a few. But Derrick’s accomplishments off the field are worthy of note as well. He was that kind of special star who took all that he gained from his talents and gave back with generosity, energy, and joy to his community. Very early in his career as a Kansas City Chief, he began an inner-city reading program called the ‘Third and Long Foundation.
“He was No. 832 among President George Bush’s celebrated ‘Thousand Points of Light.’ He was named the NFL’s Man of the Year in 1993. Two years later, he received the Byron “Whizzer” White Humanitarian Award from the NFL Players Association for his service to the community. In addition, he received the Genuine Heroes Award from Trinity College in Chicago.
“But more important than accolades from several foundations was the love and respect directed toward Derrick by the people of Kansas City. They understood that Derrick helped bring an invigorated sense of civic pride and community and togetherness to Kansas City, and the Chiefs fans were inspired by his sunny smile, his giving heart, and his winning ways. The arrival of Carl Peterson and Derrick Thomas to Kansas City marked the resurrection of Lamar Hunt’s historic franchise. The people of Kansas City loved Derrick Thomas — as a Chief and as a person.
Anyone who would like to submit a post sharing their Derrick Thomas memories, please send it to [email protected] and I will feature it on the site.