Derrick Thomas will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame next weekend, but the celebration started yesterday in Kansas City. A crowd of over 700 got together at the City Market for the Derrick Thomas Festival.
They remembered the good times of how Thomas sacked quarterbacks and delivered sacks of groceries to disadvantaged families during Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“It does my heart good to see the turnout and the love they had for Derrick,” said Edith Morgan, Thomas’ mother, who made the trip to Kansas City from Miami.
The event also served as a fundraiser for the Derrick Thomas/Neil Smith Third and Long Foundation, the organization Thomas founded nearly 20 years ago that is still helping youngsters overcome illiteracy in economically distressed parts of the community, and the Derrick Thomas Academy, the only school named for an NFL player.
Three of Thomas’ children were on hand — son Derrion, who turns 19 on Sunday and will accept Thomas’ bust in Canton next week; daughter Alexa, 13; and son Robert, 11.
“We’re going to represent Kansas City as best as we can,” Derrion told the enthusiastic crowd. “I want to thank you for all the support over the years. I know a lot of you were at the games and were big fans.”
Several former Chiefs, including Ed Budde, Ted McKnight, Larry Marshall and teammates of Thomas’— Tim Grunhard, Danan Hughes, Dan Saleaumua, Anthony Davis and Smith — attended and signed autographs and mingled with the fans.
Former Chiefs president Carl Peterson, who drafted Thomas with the fourth pick of the 1989 draft and will present Thomas in the induction ceremonies, just returned from Canton, where he attended a USA Football summit for youth football coaches. When Peterson visited the Hall of Fame’s gift shop, he was impressed by what he heard.
“They told me Derrick Thomas merchandise is outselling the other five inductees combined. More than Bruce Smith … more than Rod Woodson … That tells me that people still love him, and I’m hopeful that will materialize in a very nice turnout of Chiefs and Derrick Thomas fans in Canton next weekend.”
I have no trouble saying all Chiefs fans agree with Peterson on this one: people still love Thomas. I’m so excited that his mother and children will get to bask in DT’s spotlight next weekend in Canton and that yesterday they were able to get an early local taste of that in Kansas City. At the same time, as Bob Gretz noted in the latest episode of The Red & Gold Report, it’s sad to think Thomas will be missing all of the festivities because he was such a student of the game and would have loved the weekend more than anyone.
While Derrick Thomas was being honored in Kansas City, the Chiefs were settling down after their first day in River Falls, Wisconsin. The only player missing from camp is first round pick Tyson Jackson. Last year’s first round pick, Glenn Dorsey, says he has talked to Jackson several times in the last week.
“He wants to be here, but he’s got to take care of business. It was the same with me. I wanted to be here from the first day last year, but there are things you have to get done and it’s the time you do them. I told him the ropes, but he’s got to do what he’s got to do. I think he’ll be here pretty soon.”
Jackson remains the highest pick from the 2009 NFL Draft that is unsigned. On Thursday, the second choice OT Jason Smith agreed on a deal with the St. Louis Rams. But Dorsey understands what he’s going through.
“You worry about what you are missing and how far behind you are going to be when you get here. You know you are going to have to deal with the veterans and they are going to have something to tell you.”
Time to get Jackson signed. His agent has made his point, Pioli has made his. Now meet in the middle, shake hands and lets get to work. Every day missed at camp for a rookie defensive lineman is like missing a week for most other positions since the learning curve is so extreme alone the d-line.
The thing is, he said a similar thing at this time last year. He declared that the 2007 season, when he missed half the Chiefs’ games because of a broken foot, was behind him. He was looking ahead, and he saw nothing but good things on the horizon.
But this time around, Johnson says a lot of things are different this year than they were last year.
“A lot of things are going to be a lot different this year, the way I run it, the way I go about a lot of things.”
It’s all a convincing display, and it was last year, too. So forgive Haley if he needs more evidence that the “new” LJ won’t end up looking like the same old LJ.
“I don’t know if the actual talk is important. That’s more important to all the fans out there, but I know myself, as a coach, I go by what I see. That’s what I’m interested in. Not really what they’re saying, more what they’re doing.”
So Haley isn’t ready to announce Johnson as the likely starter, a careful approach the coach is taking with all positions. That’s why some of the Chiefs’ running backs spent the offseason fine-tuning their workout habits and preparing to be the starter, just in case. Jamaal Charles said he heard about the offseason drama surrounding Johnson, and the second-year rusher from Texas was ready to assume the team’s every-down load.
“I thought about that a lot. I’m ready more than I was last year. I’m ready to take that on. I want it a lot. I want to be the man.”
Johnson said he was invigorated after meeting Haley and Pioli, who made it clear to Johnson that the old way wouldn’t fly, and neither would the idea that winning a handful of games is an acceptable or simply unlucky fate. Johnson liked hearing that.
“Those guys coming in, the dedication to winning and not the dedication to things that happen off the field and things like that, concerning ourselves with things that don’t concern winning… Obviously, Todd and Pioli coming in here, their dedication to winning more than two games made me happy.”
A motivated Larry Johnson will only help the Chiefs this season. But I still think he’s missing some key points about what Haley and Pioli expect from him and all players in Kansas City. Saying that they are dedicated to winning and not things that happen off the field isn’t completely accurate. Yes, they are giving him a clean slate and forgiving his past indiscretions. But I hope LJ knows that the first time any sort of trouble finds him, the new regime will care very much about it. So far he has done an incredible job and I’m very excited to see him in pads running with a purpose once again.