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Derrick Vincent Thomas (January 1, 1967 – February 8, 2000), nicknamed D.T., was an American football linebacker and defensive end for the Kansas City Chiefs of the National Football League (NFL). He played his entire 11-year career for the Chiefs after being drafted fourth overall in the 1989 NFL Draft. Thomas, part of the class of 2009 entering the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was a premier football player throughout the 1990s and is considered one of the best pass rushers of all time. In 1990 against the Seattle Seahawks, he set an NFL record with seven sacks in a single game. On February 8, 2000, Thomas died from a massive blood clot that developed in his paralyzed lower extremities and traveled to his lungs. His paralysis was the result of severe injuries sustained in a car accident weeks earlier.
Born in Miami, Florida, Thomas was raised by his mother. His father, Air Force Captain and B-52 pilot Robert James Thomas, died during a mission in the Vietnam War. Thomas started playing football when he was three years old. He played high school football at South Miami Senior High School.
Alongside Cornelius Bennett and later Keith McCants, Thomas spearheaded one of the best defensive lines in college football and smashed many Crimson Tide defensive records, including sacks in a single season. He was awarded the Butkus Award in 1988 after a season which saw him set an NCAA record 27 sacks along with finishing 10th in Heisman Trophy balloting. He currently holds the single season NCAA FBS sack record with 27 and what was the career sack record with 52 career sacks. He was also selected as a unanimous All-American at the conclusion of the 1988 season, a season which culminated in the Crimson Tide’s thrilling 29-28 victory over Army in the 1988 Sun Bowl. In 2000, Thomas was named a Sun Bowl Legend. He was awarded the Sington Soaring Spirit Award by the Lakeshore Foundation. This annual award is named for University of Alabama football legend Fred Sington. Thomas was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2014.
Thomas was selected in the first round of the 1989 NFL Draft, fourth overall, and was signed by the Chiefs. He would remain with the Chiefs for his entire career.
Thomas’s rookie year was very successful, earning him Defensive Rookie of the Year by the Sporting News, and was the first Chiefs’ linebacker to be elected to the Pro Bowl in his first season since Hall of Fame player Bobby Bell. He would appear in nine Pro Bowls during his career.
Thomas was perhaps most well known for his ability to sack the quarterback and was named an All-Pro 9 times and was voted to 9 Pro Bowls in his 10 year career. He totaled 126.5 sacks in his career, ranking 12th all-time in NFL history, and still holds the single game record of 7 quarterback sacks, a feat which occurred against Seattle’s Dave Krieg on Veterans Day, 1990. Ironically, it was a sack that Thomas didn’t get that decided the game: on the final play, Krieg eluded a blitzing Thomas and threw a touchdown pass to give the Seahawks a 17-16 win. The next player to come close to breaking this record was Thomas himself, recording 6 sacks against the Oakland Raiders in the regular season opener in 1998.
He is one of only 25 NFL players to achieve 100 or more sacks, and ranks fifth all-time in Chiefs’ history with 649 career tackles. During his career, he also recorded 1 interception and recovered 19 fumbles, returning them for 161 yards and 4 touchdowns. Thomas established Chiefs career records for sacks, safeties, fumble recoveries, and forced fumbles. Off the field, Thomas established the Third and Long Foundation in 1990, which helps inner city youth learn to read and teaches life skills through educational and cultural programs.
On January 31, 2009, Thomas was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his fifth year of eligibility.
On January 23, 2000, Thomas’ and two friends were driving to Kansas City International Airport during a snowstorm, where they were to take a flight to St. Louis to watch the NFC Championship game between the St. Louis Rams and New Orleans Saints. Unfortunately, they were involved in an accident that left Thomas paralyzed from the chest down. Thomas was later transferred to Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital. On the morning of February 8, 2000, while being transferred from his hospital bed to a wheelchair on his way to therapy, Thomas told his mother he was not feeling well. Thomas went into cardio-respiratory arrest and sadly died as a result of a pulmonary embolism; a massive blood clot that developed in his paralyzed lower extremities and traveled through his venous system to his lungs. His untimely death at the young age of 33 was a tragedy to the KC Chiefs, his fans, the “Third & Long Foundation” that he had established, and the football world, and an even more horrific catastrophe and loss to his loving family and children.
In 1990 Derrick Thomas founded the Derrick Thomas Third and Long Foundation. The foundations mission is to ‘sack illiteracy’ and change the lives of 9 to 13 year old urban children facing challenging and even life-threatening situations in the Kansas City area. Through social, cultural and educational activities and programs, the Third and Long Foundation. helps participating children succeed in school and in an outside world possessing seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
On January 31, 2009, Derrick Thomas was one of six players selected for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was officially inducted in Canton, Ohio on August 8, 2009. He had been a finalist for induction for four years before his induction. The Chiefs announced on June 23, 2009 that they would retire #58 in honor of Thomas, and the retirement ceremony took place on December 6, 2009 when the Chiefs played the Denver Broncos.
The Chiefs have named their player of the year award in Thomas’s honor. Notable winners of the Derrick Thomas award include Derrick Thomas himself, Christian Okoye, Neil Smith, Marcus Allen, Priest Holmes, Trent Green, Larry Johnson, Jared Allen, Tony Gonzalez, and Jamaal Charles. (Thomas, Okoye, Smith, and Allen won the award prior to the award being named for him)
Country music singer Hank Williams, Jr., on his “Almeria Club” album, did a song called “Cross on the Highway”, in memory of Thomas, as well as Mike Tellis, who was a passenger in the January 2000 accident. Williams was friends with both Thomas and Tellis.
Even when he screwed up, Derrick Thomas did it with his motor running at full speed. Aug. 27, 1986. Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J. Alabama is clinging to a 16-10 lead over Ohio State in the Chase Kickoff Classic. Eight seconds are left on the clock. On what should have been the last play of …
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