I’ve been pondering what to write following the Best Boys’ trip to Canton, Ohio to see Derrick Thomas finally get posthumously inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. You see, this is not just another run-of-the-mill article for me, because D.T. was one of my boyhood idols. I’ve been stuck. Stuck like a pass rusher trying to get around Willie Roaf.
Then I thought about talking to Michael Irvin briefly on my flight back to Texas. Irvin is a charismatic guy and was a helluva player. But even though he got into the Hall quicker than D.T. did, he’s no D.T. Not as a man. Not as a player.
Irvin was the third wheel, fourth if you count Larry Allen, of a spectacular offense on a juggernaut Cowboys’ team. Instead of winning Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Awards, the Playmaker was busy getting busted for possession of nose candy at his 30th birthday bash. Both Irvin and Thoms made the 1990s All-Decade Team, but D.T. made four more Pro Bowl trips than Irvin. Thomas also was selected to three more All Pro teams. Additionally, his stats are more impressive. Yet Irvin beat him into the Hall by a couple of years.
It’s obvious why this happened. Being part of three Super Bowl Champion teams gave Irvin a much higher profile. He also played for the Cowboys and has been in the spotlight after his retirement as a member of the media. But all of that doesn’t make him better than Thomas. In fact, I’ll argue that Thomas was as important to his team and city as any player to put on a helmet and shoulder pads and step onto an NFL field during the 90s.
Bruce Smith played on stacked Bills teams alongside fellow Hall of Famers Jim Kelly and Thurmon Thomas. Hell, Andre Reed, Cornelius Bennett and Steve Tasker will likely both get in eventually. Darryl Talley even has a shot.
John Elway played with HoFer Gary Zimmerman and likely future HoFers Shannon Sharpe and Terrell Davis. Steve Atwater made the 90s All-Decade Team. Bill Romonowski, Ed McCaffery and Rod Smith were no joke either.
Joe Montana and Jerry Rice played with a sh**load of other superstars. Probably double this post’s length by going into detail about all the studs on that team.
Jerome Bettis and Rod Woodson had each other up in the ‘Burgh. They also had Carnell Lake, Greg Lloyd and Kevin Greene.
The Vikings had Chris Carter, Chris Doleman, John Randle, Randall McDaniel and Zimmerman, all made the All-Decade team. Besides, they weren’t even as good as the Chiefs outside of the 1999 season.
Brett Favre had Reggie White, and vice versa. The Pack also had Adam Timmerman, Antonio Freeman, Eugene Robinson, Frank Winters, Keith Jackson (fives times All-Pro — that caught me off guard) and LeRoy Butler.
Deion Sanders might have been Prime Time, but it was always coattails time when it came to the roster he was on.
Junior Seau meant a lot to the Chargers, and didn’t have a ton of help, but despite a much longer career his statistics don’t stand up against Derrick’s.
Derrick Thomas didn’t play with one true Chief Hall of Famer, and only briefly got to play alongside Joe Montana and Marcus Allen while they were shells of their former selves. Meanwhile, Brian Waters was drafted in 2000 and Tony Gonzalez had his first 1,000-yard season that same year. Dale Carter and James Hasty were a fine pair, but the only way they are seeing the Hall of Fame is by paying the price of admission.
Nonetheless, D.T. carried the Chiefs to more home wins and also more playoff appearances than any other team during the 90s. Despite playing with quarterbacks named Bono, DeBerg, Grbac and Krieg — and those guys had limited targets — D.T. made the Chiefs Super Bowl contenders for most of the decade. How? The Chiefs lead the decade with a turnover differential of +128. (365 total forced turnovers). The Giants were next with a plus+69 T.O. differential. Thomas was responsible for 65 of those T.O.s himself, and there’s no telling how many he forced by working the Sea of Red into a frenzy and hurrying the quarterback a staggering 444 times. He also had more sacks than either Bruce Smith or Reggie White during the decade.
Off the field, Derrick Thomas’ Third and Long Foundation and constant efforts with our troops made him one of the NFL’s leading philanthropists. He quickly replaced George Brett as Kansas City’s favorite son and didn’t disappoint. He won the NFL Man of the Year Award in 1993, and the Derrick Thomas Academy charter school was named after him in 2001, serving as a permanent reminder of just how much he meant to the city. You already know all that, and if you didn’t Carl Peterson enlightened you during his terrific, but self-serving, speech last Saturday.
How you measure the magnitude of Derrick Thomas’ life is by the fact that there were almost as many Chiefs fans in Canton as Steelers fans, despite Woodson being alive and the Steelers, one of the NFL’s leading bandwagon teams, home stadium sitting only a couple of hours away.
You measure Derrick Thomas by how many of his ex-teammates and coaches showed up last Saturday.
You measure Derrick Thomas by the countless quarterbacks who said they gameplanned for D.T. more than any other player.
You measure Derrick Thomas by the awe and respect he commanded from other team’s fans, the way they still gush about him nearly a decade after his death.
You measure Derrick Thomas by the thousands of eyes that teared up last Saturday night when he finally got recognized as one of the 300 or so best gladiators ever to snap on his chinstrap.
You measure Derrick Thomas by the way he created the league’s best homefield advantage with his play, a legacy that I know will continue when Arrowhead returns to being the league’s loudest stadium this September.
Thomas’ induction cemented the Chiefs, and specifically Thomas and the Chiefs’ defense he spearheaded, as one of the NFL highlights of the 90s. As a young Chiefs fan who has seen the Chiefs get basically zero recognition during my lifetime, it’s nice for me and my generation of Chiefs fans to see that finally happen. More importantly, I think we can all let go of Derrick properly now. He’s finally been recognized as the one of the most important NFL players of the 90s. In my book, no 90s NFL player meant more to his team and city than Derrick Thomas.