Alabama Football: Hall of Fame Finally Gets It Right, to Induct Derrick Thomas

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Alabama Football: Hall of Fame Finally Gets It Right, to Induct Derrick Thomas
David Breslauer/Associated Press
Legendary linebacker Derrick Thomas is finally going into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Even though word had already leaked out that former University of Alabama linebacker Derrick Thomas would be part of the 62nd induction class for the College Football Hall of Fame, Thursday’s official announcement still brought reactions ranging from celebration to frustration.

Like usual, it’s another stellar group that will be enshrined, including LaDanian Tomlinson and Sterling Sharpe, this time for the relocated Hall that’s in the process of moving from South Bend, Indiana, to Atlanta.

Regarding the honor, Crimson Tide fans couldn’t be prouder.

While Thomas doesn’t technically have the all-time sacks record, as the NCAA didn’t include defensive statistics in the official records until 2000 (Terrell Suggs of Arizona State has it with 44, 2000-02), most schools and conferences started keeping track by 1982.

If those years were included, Thomas would be tied with Arizona’s Tedy Bruschi (1991-95), who was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame last December. Instead, he’s credited with the Southeastern Conference and Alabama marks with 52.

That’s 16 more than anyone from the league since his career ended in 1988 (Georgia’s David Pollock, 36, 2001-04), 20 more than Reggie White had at Tennessee and 27 more than every other Crimson Tide player, with Kindal Moorehead’s 25 a distant second (1998-2002).

His 27 sacks in 1988, when Thomas also had an amazing 39 tackles for a loss and 45 quarterback hurries, would similarly be the NCAA single-season record (since 1980). Last year the entire Alabama team combined for 22, and the most sacks an Alabama player has had in a single season since Nick Saban arrived in 2007 was Wallace Gilberry with 10.

“I just want to thank God for blessing me with some athletic talent and letting me play for the University of Alabama,” Thomas said after winning the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker his senior season in 1988.

Thomas also once said: “Whenever I see those crimson jerseys and crimson helmets, I feel humbled to have played football for Alabama. Other players in the NFL talk to me about their schools and their traditions, I just smile knowing the immense love Alabama fans have for our school and its football program. I’m proud to be part of that Crimson Tide heritage.”

The 2014 College Football Hall of Fame class
Name Position School(s)
Mike Bellotti Coach Oregon, Chico State
Dré Bly Cornerback North Carolina
Tony Boselli Offensive tackle Southern California
Dave Butz Defensive tackle Purdue
Shane Conlan Linebacker Penn State
Joe Hamilton Quarterback Georgia Tech
John Huard Linebacker Maine
Jerry Moore Coach Appalachian State, Texas Tech, North Texas
Darrin Nelson Running back Stanford
Willie Roaf Offensive lineman Louisiana Tech
John Sciarra Quarterback UCLA
Sterling Sharpe Wide receiver South Carolina
Leonard Smith Cornerback McNeese State
Derrick Thomas Alabama Linebacker
LaDainian Tomlinson TCU Running back
Wesley Walls Ole Miss Tight end

National Football Foundation

When the Kansas City Chiefs made him the fourth-overall selection in the 1989 National Football League draft, team president Carl Peterson called it a new “beginning” for the organization. Thomas responded by being named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

For an encore, he had 20 sacks in 1990 and set a league single-game record with seven against Seattle while helping lead the Chiefs to the playoffs. The nine-time All-Pro selection established franchise career records for sacks (126.5), safeties (three), fumble recoveries (18) and forced fumbles (45).

Thomas also started the “Third and Long Foundation” to encourage inner-city reading, received the ’93 NFL Man of the Year Award, the ’95 Byron “Whizzer” White Award from the NFL Players Association and was President George Bush’s “832nd Point of Light.

“For me, my goals are a lot higher than just being a successful linebacker or being All-Pro,” Thomas said after the 1994 season. “When my career is over, I want people to look back and view me as the best, or one of the two best to ever play the position.”

Thomas was just 33 when he died following a car accident, causing a massive blood clot that had developed in his paralyzed lower extremities to travel to his lungs.

"Derrick Thomas was a true hero,” state senator and former Chiefs quarterback Bill Kenney said while asking for a moment of silence from the Missouri legislature on Feb. 8, 2000, “He will be missed by football fans around the nation, but we will miss him in Kansas City for his attitude and his efforts he put forth in our community.”

Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press/Associated Press
Derrick Thomas already had his NFL number retired and was in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009.

Consequently, one can’t help but wonder what on earth took the College Football Hall of Fame so long.

Thomas’ collegiate career ended 26 years ago. He died in 2000. Even the selection committee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame found a spot for him Canton as part of the class of 2009.

To be eligible for the College Football Hall of Fame, "players must have been named a First Team All-American by a major/national selector as recognized and utilized by the NCAA for its consensus All-America teams; played their last year of intercollegiate football at least 10 years prior; played within the last 50 years and cannot be currently playing professional football."

While that’s disqualified nearly every Crimson Tide quarterback including Joe Namath, players are not voted directly into the college hall by the National Football Foundation membership. Instead, according to its website, the votes are "tabulated and submitted to the NFF's Honors Court, which deliberates and selects the class."

It’s hard to image that Thomas didn’t have the necessary votes the past three years after becoming eligible, but it's easy to see how timing might have been a factor.

While construction continues in Atlanta, the new Hall of Fame is set to open in conjunction with this year’s Chick-fil-A Kickoff games at the Georgia Dome featuring Ole Miss vs. Boise State on Aug. 28 and Alabama against West Virginia on Aug. 30.

What better way to promote both than to have maybe the best player in Crimson Tide history be a part of the relocated Hall’s first class? In the future the announcement will be made the week of the national championship game.

Most CFHOF Inductions (coaches and players)
1. Notre Dame 50
2. Michigan 36
3. Southern California 34
4. Ohio State 30
5. Army 28
(tie) Yale 28
7. Princeton 26
8. Oklahoma 25
9. Navy 24
(tie) Stanford 24
(tie) Tennessee 24

Ultimate Football Database

Meanwhile, of the 5 million people who have played college football, 934 players and 205 coaches have been inducted since 1951, yet Thomas will be just the 18th player from Alabama, 23rd including coaches, to be inducted.

In comparison, Notre Dame, located roughly two miles away from the old Hall, has the most with 50, followed by Michigan with 36. Alabama will be tied with Pennsylvania and Penn State for 12th in terms of representation.

Yet Alabama has hardly been alone when it comes to being slighted, as the entire region only has three other programs listed among the top 25 inductees, with Tennessee tied for ninth with 24 (yes, the Volunteers have more Hall of Famers than the Tide), Georgia tied with Texas A&M for 22nd with 16 and Georgia Tech tied at the bottom with 15.

Hopefully things will begin to even out now, with Thomas an important step.

 

Christopher Walsh is the lead Alabama football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 

Follow @CrimsonWalsh

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