Legends of the Fall:  Derek Thomas

When you look back at Kansas City Chiefs history there are a lot of players that can be classified as legends. A storied franchise like the Chiefs have had players that have transcended the game of football, that have been more than just a player. When you talk about how you classify a legend, you think records, Hall of Fame and how they are remembered. When you look back at all the Chiefs that have ever walked on the field, there are several that stand out among the rest. All time great Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas, also known as DT, is one of the selected few athletes. 
Born in Miami, FL in 1967 Derrick Thomas was raised by a single mother. His father, a Captain in the Air Force and a B-52 pilot, was killed on a mission during the Vietnam war. After his father’s death, Thomas started to act out. At one point he was arrested and admitted to the Dade Marine Institute, something like bootcamp. But it was here that Thomas turned his future around. Thomas told Jeffrey Flanagan of the Kansas City Star that getting caught caused him to stop “running with the wrong people. Instead of sitting around and throwing rocks at cars and buses, and trying to figure out what place to rob, I put all my energy into football.” Thomas started playing football at a very young age, and he played his high school football at South Miami Senior High School.
After Thomas was finished at the high school level, he decided to play football at the University of Alabama. During his time at Alabama, Thomas was part of one of the best defenses in the nation, and also surpassed several Crimson Tide single season records including sacks in a single season at 27. In 1988, his senior season, Thomas won the Butkus award and was selected as a unanimous All-American. After being one of the most dominant defensive players in college football history, Thomas was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2014.

After a stellar college career, it was time for Thomas to move to the NFL. He was selected fourth in the 1989 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs, a uniform he would wear for his entire career. In Thomas’ rookie year, he continued to show his dominance just like he did at the college level. Thomas was awarded Defensive Rookie of the Year by Sporting News and was selected to the Pro-Bowl, the first time a Chiefs linebacker had done that in his rookie season since Bobby Bell. After a few poor seasons in the late 80s, DT ushered in a new era for Chiefs football. In his 11 year career with the Chiefs, they only missed the playoffs two times, and only had one record below the .500 mark. Thomas was selected to nine Pro-Bowls as a Chief, has 126.5 sacks, ranking 12th all-time and holds the single game record for sacks at seven.
Here are some of Thomas’ other accomplishments and awards during his tenure in the NFL:
9x Pro-Bowl (1989-1997)
3x First Team All-Pro (1990-1992)
3x Second Team All-Pro (1993, 1994, 1996)
7x First Team All-AFC (1989-1994, 1996)
NFL 1990s All-Decade Team
NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year (1989)
Walter Payton Man of the Year Award (1993)
#58 Retired by the Kansas City Chiefs
NFL Records:
Sacks in a single game: 7
Chiefs Records:
Career Forced Fumbles: 41
Forced Fumbles in One Season: 8
Recovered Fumbles: 9
Career Sacks: 126.5
Career Safeties: 3
Career NFL Stats:
Tackles: 642
Sacks: 126.5
Forced Fumbles: 41
Interceptions: 1
During his NFL career, Thomas was known for getting after the quarterback. He set records and etched himself in Kansas City Chiefs history forever. But, Thomas did work off the field as well as on the field. In 1990, Thomas founded the Derrick Thomas Third and Long Foundation. The mission of the foundation is to “sack literacy” and help 9-13 year-old children in the Kansas City area avoid situations that could prove dangerous or even life threatening. In 2009, Derrick Thomas was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, after four years as a finalist on the ballot.

On January 23, 2000, Derrick Thomas and two other passengers were involved in a horrible car crash. It was snowing and icing at the time, and Thomas was said to have been speeding in excess of 100 m.p.h. Unfortunately, Thomas and one of the passengers were not wearing seat belts and were thrown from the car, the passenger was killed instantly. The passenger that did choose to wear his seat belt walked away unharmed. Thomas however, was paralyzed from the chest down. While being treated at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, Thomas told his mother he didn’t feel well and died of a massive blood clot in his lower body.
Even though the way Derrick Thomas left this earth wasn’t bright, his legacy was. On the field he was one of the best defenders in Kansas City Chiefs’ history, and off the field he was an inspiration to the youth of Kansas City. Legends are people that aren’t ever forgotten, Thomas’ memory will live on, and he will be remembered as one of the greatest Chiefs to ever play.


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