“I said at that time that a light had gone out in Kansas City. But for all Derrick Thomas fans, the light has gone back on tonight. It will burn brightly in Kansas City, and now will burn forever in this shrine to professional football. Today culminates the life of a great player who did so much for his community, a life that ended too young. It must be said: ‘My son, you fought the good fight, you finshed the race, you kept the faith. You’re in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and no one can ever take that from you.’ ”
Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame tonight in Canton, Ohio. Carl Peterson was chosen to present and enshrine Thomas.
Say what you will about Peterson, he brought DT to Kansas City and was clearly the father that Derrick was without for much of his life.
And talk about a great speech. There were so many amazing moments, not just from Peterson but all of the Chiefs fans and former players/coaches in the audience. But if you didn’t break up a little when they were showing Marty Schottenheimer having trouble holding it together, you might want to check your pulse.
Congratulations, Derrick! It’s a well deserved honor that I only wish you were still with us to accept. Carl Peterson and your son Derrion did a fantastic job in your place, but you were missed more than you could imagine.
Check out a five minute summary of Peterson’s speech above or the transcript of the entire speech after the jump.
The spring of 1989, myself, Marty Schottenheimer and Bill Cowher went to Tuscaloosa, Alabama to workout a player we had hoped to consider to be our number one draft choice. He was an extraordinary person, and as his head coach at Alabama said great player, great person, and you’ll never tire the young man out. Derrick had not worked out for us at the Indianapolis Combine. And we were a little hot about it. It was a very hot day in Tuscaloosa on the Astro Turf, and Bill Cowher began to work Derrick out. And he worked him out, and he worked him out, and he worked him out. He gave him every linebacker drill he knew. He came back to Marty and I, and he said, what do you think?
After every drill, Derrick would come back and give us that smile that unbelievable smile and say, “coach, what else would you like to see?” I said, let’s see some more. Bill Cowher gave him all the defensive line drills. One drill, after another drill, after another. And every time after the drill, Derrick would come over, smile at us, and say “what else would you like to see?” There were four of his teammates that were working out with us at that time, too. And by now they had fallen away, totally exhausted. And Bill Cowher came back and said I’m running out of drills. We said let’s see just a few more. And he drilled him with all the defensive back drills that he knew.
Bill came back and he said, “Hey, I’m out of drills and I’m exhausted.” We knew we had a special guy here.
When Derrick Thomas passed from us in February of 2000, I commented to our media that a light had gone out in Kansas City. Today, Derrick Thomas joins the company of the finest to ever play the game. It’s appropriate that he takes his place beside the other two great Kansas City Hall of Fame linebackers who are here, Bobby Bell and Willie Lanier.
I know that the other Chiefs Hall of Famers here, and some are past, welcome Derrick also. And I am very thankful to the Thomas family, and particularly Derrick’s mother, Edith Morgan for the opportunity to talk about her son. And I’d like the Derrick Thomas family to stand for one minute. Thank you for your guy. Thank you. You see, Derrick and I had a special connection. Forged by the fact that we both came to Kansas City about the same time, and Derrick was my first draft pick. When I came to the Chiefs prior to the 1989 season.
For the next decade, he was the corner stone of the success of the Chiefs’ franchise. A decade in which our team, the one that Derrick started on, accounted for more than 10 victories. Derrick Thomas’ career was meteoric, he became a symbol of our team’s success, and certainly we had other outstanding players at that time, Neil Smith, Christian Okoye, Deron Cherry, Joe Montana, Marcus Allen, Will Shields and Tony Gonzalez to simply talk about a few prominent ones.
I’ll tell you the story about a young Bill Cowher and Marty. Derrick in his first year as a rookie had 75 tackles, 10 sacks, three fumbles caused. Two fumbles recovered, was the Defensive Rookie of the Year. Later in the spring of 1990, Bill Cowher came to Marty, said “Marty, I’ve got a great idea. Why don’t we do this on the defense? We’ll get Derrick lined up in his three-point stance in his normal position right outside linebacker. Then on on the snap of the ball we’ll drop him into coverage. We’ll bring a couple of guys.” I said, ‘Bill, that’s a very interesting concept. Just answer me one question, why would we be having our best pass rusher run away from the quarterback?’
Derrick that year had 20 sacks, and I think without question, that’s called great coaching.
For me, the definition of a Pro Football Hall of Famer is that he must be a game changer particularly on the defensive side of the ball. He must be able to create and change the course of a game. Create a play or a serious of plays that swings the momentum of that game in the favor of your team.
In my personal opinion, there are only a handful of such defensive players in the modern era. Lawrence Taylor, the late Reggie White, being honored here tonight in this class, a guy by the name of Bruce Smith and Rod Woodson, 71 interceptions, I may have to include you there, too.
But, yes, the late, great Derrick Thomas. Early on in our friendship, Derrick confided in me that he had a number of things that he wanted to accomplish in his life and as a pro football player. And I think we can say today that he accomplished almost every one.
Derrick had aspirations beyond the football field. He wanted to earn his degree from the University of Alabama. And coming to the Chiefs, I can tell you that he was a long way from that. But in his 11 years, he spent time during the season, during the off-season attending classes at the University of monmouth, Kansas City. Lamont Winston on our staff provided the needed assistance. And a few months after his passing, I, my wife, Lamont, and a number of Kansas City Chiefs people traveled back to Tuscaloosa, Alabama to see and witness his mother, Edith Morgan and his beloved grandmother, Annie, walk across the commencement stage at the University of Alabama to receive Derrick Thomas’ graduation diploma. It was a great day for everyone.
Another primary goal for Derrick that he set for himself was to become the finest football player that he could be, hopefully with a legacy that some day might be rewarded with the NFL’s highest honor, the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
We can think back to the closing moments of close games and how the Arrowhead Stadium crowd would chant his name. While all eyes may have been on Joe Montana and Steve Young in a key regular season match-up between the Chiefs and 49ers in 1994, it was Thomas’ three sacks that propelled the Chiefs to a 24-17 win. That included a key safety which Derrick calls in the east end zone before the snap. He did that again two other times in his career.
All totalled, 46 different NFL quarterbacks became a victim of a Thomas sack, led by John Elway, who was taken down 17 times. Appropriately Derrick got his 100th career sack off of John, and a thrilling 24-22 win over the Broncos in 1997.
What defensive player made as many big plays to preserve wins or generate points or field position for his team? When games were on the line, and the Chiefs defense was on the field, it was Derrick Thomas that his coaches, his teammates and Chiefs fans looked to for a stop and a change of the opponent’s momentum.
In his 11 years with the Chiefs, the Chiefs were a combined plus 120 on the turnover ratio. The second team was the New York Giants at a plus 69. And Derrick Thomas during his career was responsible for 65 of those takeaways.
In his 11 seasons with the Chiefs, the Chiefs’ defense ranked in the top 10 nine of those years. And those stats were because of the catalyst, Derrick Thomas. Those tell part of the story. Those who played against him tell even more.
Let me borrow some of their words. Hall of Famer Jackie Slater may have provided the best definition of an impact player: “He effects the 11 guys across the line of scrimmage, and the other ten guys playing with him.” Slater said that was Derrick Thomas.
Hall of Famer Jim Kelly. He talked about how the Buffalo Bills would game plan around Derrick, and he said, “I don’t recall planning for another player like we did for Derrick. If you overlooked him, it was disaster.”
Hall of Famer and later teammate, Marcus Allen. “I do not think I feared anyone on the football field, but I came close with Derrick Thomas. He made life miserable for offenses trying to block him”. And Hall of Famer Art Shell, both coached against and with the Chiefs during Derrick’s career. And he said “the sack with a turnover. That’s as devastating a play as there is in the game. And that was Derrick Thomas.”
And Hall of Famer John Elway, “Derrick wasn’t just satisfied with a sack, he wanted a turnover. He wanted the fumble. He had more on his mind than killing the quarterback. He wanted the ball.”
And lastly, Hall of Famer and former chief, Warren Moon. “I played with him and against him. And I can tell you playing against him was a chore. He had had to be accounted for every single snap.”
A final goal of Derrick Thomas’s during his pro football career was that he wanted to be the best philanthropist possible. He wanted to give back to the community especially to the youth of Kansas City.
When we drafted him and I met with him the first time in my office in the spring of 1989, I told him this, I need two things from you. I need you to become a great football player for this franchise, and help turn this organization into a winner. But I also need you here. I need you in this community. I don’t want you living in Miami. I don’t want you living in Tuscaloosa. I want you living in Kansas City all year round. Can you do it? He said he would do it, and he did it. And he did it like he did everything with great enthusiasm and great energy.
And Derrick always had a special feeling for our troops. The military personnel who protect and defend this country. He never turned down a request. He never, ever turned down a request to visit the troops. Whether it was while he was in Hawaii playing in one of his nine Pro Bowls or with the Chiefs in our American Bowl games in Germany, Japan, and Mexico. Or visiting Fort Leavenworth or Fort Reilly, Kansas, or Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. Derrick was always generous with his time to meet and greet our finest. The United States military.
We know how proud he was of his father, Robert a B-52 pilot, whom he lost in 1972. We also know how much he loved those flyovers. When we did that at Arrowhead, unbelievably his performance seemed to step up another notch. I would share with you that I tried to get a flyover every single week, but the United States Air Force wouldn’t let me do it.
As much as anything Derrick did on the football field, beyond the seven sacks in one game, and all the sacks in his career, and all the fumbles recovered, and all the tackles and touchdowns and safeties he made, it was his contribution off the field that stamped his time here on earth. He was certainly not a perfect man but I would ask whom of us is? He was a committed man. Committed to helping others. His list of accomplishments off the field had been widely chronicled.
But among some of the most prominent are the Walter Peyton award as the NFL’s Man of the Year. The NFLPA’s Byron “Whizzer” White Humanitarian Award. And something that no other professional football player has ever received from President George H.W. Bush, the 832nd point of light.
Derrick’s continuing legacy is his Third and Long Foundation. A reading program he established soon after he came to Kansas City, and to which he devoted countless hours and finances.
Some of the students from the third and long are here with us today. And I’d like them please to stand and be recognized. I would tell you that over 1,000 children have gone through that program since its inception. And here also are 17 of the 24 third and longboard members, and I’d like for them to stand and be recognized.
Ladies and gentlemen, for a foundation to succeed and continue on, nine years after the loss of his founder speaks volumes about these people. And three of them I need to recognize publicly. The long-time president, Betty Brown. The legal counsel and close friend of Derrick Thomas, Kevin Reagan. And Derrick’s partner, both on and off the field, who has volunteered his time for the Third and Long in Derrick’s absence, Neil Smith. Please stand.
Derrick was extremely proud of the work of his foundation, and perhaps he saw what a helping hand meant to him when he was a troubled youth growing up in Miami. Indeed, in 1992 he saw his middle school English teacher, Mary Ann Williams, named the NFL’s first teacher of the year.
At the time of Derrick’s tragic death, I also stated at the memorial service that something good will come of this, because a good man has left our presence. Perhaps that good is recognized in the opening of a charter school that bears his name. The only professional athlete that’s been honored this way. The Derrick Thomas Academy located in downtown Kansas City.
Some of those children, faculty and administration are here in Canton also. Would you please stand and be recognized? I know that if Derrick were here tonight there would be a number of people he would want to thank. Beginning with his family, his lovely mother, Edith. And I know he would also like to give a large thank you – especially large thank you to the late Lamar. And his lovely wife, Norma, is here. He would want to thank the Hunt family. Clark and Tabia, Lamar, Jr. Sharon, David and Daniel. And he would also like to thank the number of Chiefs people, many of whom have made this trip to witness this wonderful occasion.
Daniel Carmen Thune, Mary Jane Styles, Brenda and Bob Sneezic. Mike Dasik and Allen Wright are not here, but I know they’re looking in, as well as Chuck Cook, and Terry Bradway.” Two trainers that worked with Derrick, Dave Kendall, and Bud Epps, as well as two special doctors who meant more to Derrick right until the last moments in his life, Dr. John Brown, and Dr. Joe Wackerly.
To some terrific people in the PR office, Bob Moore, and Jimmy Carr. And to a very fine journalist and his wife, Bob and Anita Gretz. Bob presented Derrick’s nomination each year to the Hall of Fame voters.
I would also for Derrick want to thank Leigh Steinberg, David Dunn, and Jeff Moorad, his player, agents, and Derrick, that one was a little difficult for me. I hope you understand.
And quite obviously, quite obviously, Derrick would want to thank his coaches. And amazingly, almost all of his coaches from the Kansas City Chiefs are here tonight. And I would start with and I’d like them to stand and be recognized, Marty and Pat Schottenheimer. And just to be sure to win the crowd over. In case you don’t know it, Marty played in the AFL for the Buffalo Bills.
Kurt and Colleen Schottenheimer, there they are and Renee Cunningham, John and Don Bunting, and all of the other coaches from his high school and from the University of Alabama, including Bill Curry, Woody Lowe, and John Guy, now of the Buffalo Bills. And to all of his teammates, plus the fellow NFL players, many of whom are here tonight, he would say to each and every one of you, thank you.
And as a personal thank you, I have to say to my Laurie, thank you. She loved Derrick as much as I did. And she allowed me to share our time together.
And finally, finally a special thank you to you. The fans of Derrick Thomas. You who have traveled here today from the community of Kansas City and from around the country. Derrick would say thank you. Derrick Thomas he had a style that was infectious, and he never did anything in a slow way, except make meetings on time. He made everyone around him pick up the pace, and yet Derrick Thomas always had time for everyone.
Because he had a huge heart, and a smile that was big as Derrick himself. As a fierce opponent, Derrick Thomas was a unique and gifted player. But he was also a unique and gifted human being. He was fun to be around, and he made the game and life around him exciting.
Today we say, Derrick, this is your day. Along with your classmates of 2009, you have earned this day because of the way that you played our great game of football. You deserve this one last wonderful honor. And all of us that knew you celebrates this day with you and your family.
For all Derrick Thomas fans, the light has gone back on, and it will now burn brightly in the community of Kansas City in the middle of America. And it will also burn here very brightly in the shrine to pro football, the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, and it will burn forever.
From the fans of the Kansas City Chiefs, from his teammates and his coaches, from the players everywhere that knew him and competed with him or against him and from all the Derrick Thomas fans, we thank the hall for recognizing who he was. A worthy recipient of the status of being a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
And yes, today does culminate the life of a great NFL player, who did so much both on and off the field for his community. A life that ended too young. It must be said, my son, Derrick, you have fought the good fight. You have finished the race. You have kept the faith. Derrick, you’re in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and no one can ever take that from you. Thank you, and good night.