Every kid who is a sports fan has a favorite player growing up. Someone you have a jersey of, have posters of on your bedroom wall, and collect their trading cards. Mine was linebacker Derrick Thomas.
Drafted No. 4 overall in the 1989 NFL Draft out of the University of Alabama, Derrick Thomas became the foundation of a new regime in Kansas City, along with GM Carl Peterson and Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer.
Thomas made an impact right from the start, earning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year with 10 sacks. His second year (1990) may have his been his best season ever. He led the NFL with 20 sacks and produced a memorable afternoon on Nov. 11.
Against division rival Seattle, Thomas wreaked havoc on Dave Kreig and the Seahawks with seven sacks. All day long Thomas was coming off of the edge beating tackles, tight ends, and running backs...they simply could not block him.
The seven sacks in a single game still stands as an NFL record. However, Thomas could’ve easily gotten eight. On the last play of the game, he flew around the end, had Kreig in his grasps, but he was going so fast, Kreig managed to slip out and step up to throw the game winning touchdown pass.
After the game, Thomas was sick to his stomach, he felt he had lost the game. But it was because of him the Chiefs were even in a position to win that game to begin with. His sack and forced fumble of Kreig in the endzone produced KC’s only touchdown of the game.
That year the Chiefs went 11-5 and made the playoffs. In fact, starting in 1990, Kansas City made the playoffs six-straight years and seven of the next eight seasons.
Thomas was the leader of a defense that was dominate in the 1990's.
The Chiefs posted a 102-58 regular season record in the 90's and had more playoff appearances than any other club. They also had the best turnover differential (+128) and most takeaways (365) of the decade.
Every quarterback feared going up against Derrick Thomas and that vaunted defense. The scariest place for an NFL QB to be was in Arrowhead Stadium, third-and-long, and No. 58 staring you down.
Thomas' career accomplishments are mind boggling. Nine-time Pro-Bowler, 27 multi-sack games, 444 QB pressures, member of the NFL’s All-Decade team, 45 forced fumbles, 19 fumble recoveries, four defensive touchdowns, three safeties, and 126.5 sacks. In fact, no other player recorded more sacks in the 90's than Thomas' 116.5
He meant so much to the Kansas City community. Not only for being the leader of all those great Chiefs' teams, but for what he did off of the field as well. In 1993 he was named the NFL Man of the Year for his charitable work with kids.
He started the Third and Long Foundation along with Neil Smith that works to support and improve reading and learning abilities of disadvantaged youth in the KC area. The foundation helps kids between the ages of nine-to-13, in challenging situations. It's a foundation that carries on today.
I was only 14 when Thomas was taken from us in February of 2000. I have two distinct memories of him I’d like to share.
The first was a Sunday Night game at Arrowhead in 1998 against the Seahawks. This game was played in a driving rain storm that delayed the game almost an hour.
I remember staying up late with school the next day watching the Chiefs' D dominate in route to a 17-6 victory. My favorite moment from that game was Thomas sitting in the mud, in a downpour with his helmet off, dog tired, just looking like a pure football player. The above picture shows exactly what I’m talking about.
But perhaps my biggest memory of Thomas is his patented "Sack and Strip" move. Every time he came off of the edge to sack a quarterback from behind, he would tomahawk his arm to try and cause a fumble.
Derrick Thomas was the first to perfect this move that is now common among pass rushers in the NFL today. I’ll always remember Thomas exploding off of the line and going for that sack and strip.
He was always smiling, like a big kid. Every Chiefs fan loved Derrick Thomas and since his death, I’ve always said, "Every KC win is for you Derrick".
He deserves to be in the Hall-of-Fame because he is one of the all-time greats. He is the reason I became a Chiefs fan. In my eyes, he is the greatest pass rushing linebacker of all time. The debate between him and Lawrence Taylor may be discussed forever, but that’s for another day.
This Saturday, when Thomas is inducted into the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame, it's Derrick Thomas' day.
I will be in Canton Saturday night to stand and cheer during his induction. I want to hear one more time, "At linebacker, No. 58, DERRICK THOMAS!!!"
I never got to see him play in person, but I am honored to witness his eternal enshrinement among the all time greats.
I encourage all Kansas City Chiefs fans and football fans in general, to leave their memories of Derrick Thomas in the comments section.