Thomas, Derrick 1967–2000

views updated May 29 2018

Derrick Thomas 19672000

Professional football player

Committed to Football

Came of Age in the NFL

A Tragic End


Possessing tremendous speed and agility, Derrick Thomas was a linebacker who struck fear in the hearts of opposing NFL quarterbacks. A perennial selection to the Pro Bowl, he enjoyed ten stellar seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs. Tragically, Thomas was paralyzed in a car accident near Kansas City, Missouri on January 23, 2000. While recovering in a hospital in Miami, Florida, he developed a blood clot and suffered cardiorespiratory arrest. He died on February 8, 2000.

Thomas was born on January 1, 1967 in Miami, Florida, and would become one of the most dominating defensive players in the history of the National Football League (NFL). In 1972 when Thomas was five his father, who was a pilot in the Air Force, was shot down over Vietnam while flying a B-52 bomber. Thomass father declared missing in action, and then declared legally dead in 1980. Thomas was raised in South Miami by his mother, Edith Morgan, and her foster mother Annie Adams. He grew up in the inner city and, as a child, had several run-ins with the police. At the age of 14, Thomas was arrested for burglary and sent to the Dade Marine Institute, a boot camp program which served as a last option for young offenders before sending them to prison. It was there that Thomas turned his life around. He returned to South Miami High School and excelled on the football field as a running back, tight end, and linebacker. Thomas told Jeffry Flanagan of the Kansas City Star about his transformation from troubled youth to football standout, I stopped running with the wrong people. Instead of sitting around and throwing rocks at cars and buses, and trying to figure out what place to rob, I put all my energy into football.

Committed to Football

After earning all-league honors at South Miami High School, Thomas earned a scholarship to the University of Alabama and proceeded to dominate the Southeast Conference. During his junior year with the Crimson Tide, Thomas recorded 67 tackles and a school-record 18 sacks. As a senior at Alabama, he won the Butkus Award as the countrys top linebacker and was named an Ail-American. He set school records with 52 sacks and 74 tackles for a loss over the course of his career as a collegian. In 1989, Thomas was drafted fourth overall

At a Glance

Born Derrick Vincent Thomas, January 1, 1967, in Miami, FL; died February 8, 2000, in Miami, FL; son of Robert Thomas (an Air Force captain) and Edith Morgan; children: Burgandie, Derrick Jr., Demon, Derrius, Robert, Micayla, and Alexis; Education: University of Alabama, attended.

Career: Played running back, tight end, and linebacker at South Miami High School, 1983; starred at linebacker at the University of Alabama, 198488; linebacker with the Kansas City Chiefs, 198999.

Member: Third and Long Foundation, founder, 1990

Awards: All-American and Butkus Award winner, 1988; Defensive Rookie of the Year, Mack Lee Hill Award winner, 1989; named to the Pro Bowl 198997; set NFL single-gamesack record {7), 1990; Chiefs MVP, 1991, 1994; NFL Man of the Year, 1993; won Byron-Whizzer White Humanitarian Award, 1995; holds Chiefs career record for sacks(126.5), safeties (3), and fumble recoveries (19).

by the Kansas City Chiefs after Troy Aikman, Tony Mandarich, and Barry Sanders. As a rookie, he announced his arrival in the NFL by rolling up 10 sacks and 55 quarterback pressures. Thomas went on to earn the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award from the Associated Press. He also started in the Pro Bowl and won the Mack Lee Hill Award, which is awarded to the Chiefs best rookie.

In his second season with the Chiefs, Thomas set the NFL single-game sack record against the Seattle Sea-hawks, sacking quarterback Dave Krieg seven times and forcing two fumbles. He accomplished this feat on Veterans Day after watching four Air Force jets fly over the stadium during a pre-game ceremony. Thomas started in his second Pro Bowl after leading the NFL with 20 sacks. His 20 quarterback sacks in 1990 established a new Chiefs record and was the fifth-highest total in league history. He also forced six fumbles and made 63 tackles over the course of the 1990 season. Off the field, Thomas established his own charitable organization, the Third and Long Foundation. The foundation started out as a way to raise money for poor kids. However, with Thomass active participation, it focused more intently on encouraging children to read and pursue their educational goals.

Came of Age in the NFL

In 1991, Thomas earned his third consecutive trip to the Pro Bowl. He was also named the Chiefs Most Valuable Player (MVP) on the strength of a 13.5sack, 79tackle season. The following year brought another invitation to the Pro Bowl as Thomas led the team with 67 tackles, 14.5 sacks, eight forced fumbles, and one touchdown.

In 1993, Thomas was named the NFL Man of the Year for his efforts both on the field and with the Third and Long Foundation. In addition to establishing his charity as a force in the Kansas City area, he led the Chiefs to the AFC Championship game. Thomas also became further identified with the cause of Vietnam veterans after giving the keynote speech at Memorial Day services in front of the Vietnam Veterans Monument. He received the Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall of Fame Award for his work on behalf of soldiers stationed overseas. He was also designated by former President George Bush as the 832nd Point of Light for his charity work in and around Kansas City.

Thomas followed a strong 1993 campaign with perhaps his best season as a professional. Besides earning a sixth straight trip to the Pro Bowl, Thomas was named the Chiefs MVP for the second time. In only his sixth season, he became the teams all-time sack leader with 72.5 sacks, including the 11 he racked up over the course of the 1994 season. Always known as a fierce pass-rusher, Thomas was now receiving recognition for his overall game. Then-coach of the Oakland Raiders, Art Shell, commented on Thomass skills to Flanagan of the Kansas City Star, Everybody knows what he can do in rushing the passer. Now, hes stopping the run, too. Hes the complete package. Almost unstoppable. Along with his usual eye-popping sack totals, Thomas also recorded a career-high 86 tackles with six forced fumbles.

The following two years were typically outstanding. Thomas made two more trips to the Pro Bowlextending his Chiefs record for Pro Bowl appearances. In 1995, Thomas was again recognized for his charitable work when he received the Byron Whizzer White Humanitarian Award. After eight years in the NFL, the injury bug finally bit Thomas. Before the 1997 season, he hurt his left triceps tendon during the pre-season and missed four games. Thomas was forced to play out the rest of the season with an arm brace, which limited his effectiveness. He was also switched to a new linebacker position, but still managed to record 9.5 sacks and 55 tackles. Despite a less than stellar season, Thomas earned a spot on his ninth straight Pro Bowl team. In 1998, Thomas started ten of the seasons 16 games. After recording six sacks to start the season, he tallied only six more for the rest of the season. Thomass frustration boiled over during a nationally televised game against the Chiefs archrival, the Denver Broncos. Late in the game, with Kansas City losing badly, Thomas was penalized three times for personal fouls in one defensive series. Thomas was suspended for a week, and Chiefs coach Marty Schot-tenheimer resigned after the season when it became clear that he had lost control of the team.

A Tragic End

During the 1999 season, Thomas was used mostly as a pass-rusher. He compiled only seven sacks, and the Chiefs season ended without a playoff appearance. Despite his teams absence from post-season play, Thomas was still interested in professional football. He had planned to fly from Kansas City to St. Louis to watch the St. Louis Rams play in the NFC Championship Game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on January 23, 2000. The roads in Kansas City were icy as the city was experiencing its first snowstorm of the year. Thomas was hurrying through traffic in his Chevrolet Suburban on his way to the airport when his vehicle hit a patch of ice and flipped over several times, Thomas and a friend were thrown from the vehicle. Thomas was paralyzed and his friend and business partner, Michael Tellis, died instantly. A third passenger, who was wearing a seat belt, was uninjured.

The following day, Thomas was transferred from a Kansas City hospital to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, Florida to have an operation on his shattered spine. Everything seemed to be going well for Thomas, who was in extraordinary physical condition, and he was looking forward to a successful rehabilitation. On the morning of February 8, 2000, Thomas went into cardiorespiratory arrest and died. Dr. Barth Green, a neurosurgeon at Jackson Memorial Hospital told ESPN, A certain percentage of people with paralysis suffer from blood clots. Sometimes you can see them and sometimes theyre hidden in the deeper veins of the body. And thats what happened to Derrick. The blood clot occurred in his pulmonary artery and deprived Thomas of blood and oxygen, which triggered the cardiorespiratory arrest.

The news of Thomass death devastated the Kansas City community and the sports world in general. Carl Peterson, the Kansas City Chiefs president and general manager told the New York Times Thomas George, We would see his heart grow over the next 11 years, and he always went back and kept in touch with the people who touched his life. Derrick came to the heartland of America, and it was here that he gave his heart. At a memorial service at the Chiefs Arrowhead Stadium, 22,750 fans viewed the body of their fallen hero and a B-2 Stealth bomber flew over the site to honor Thomas. Although his career was cut short, he had established Chiefs records in Pro Bowl appearances (9), sacks (126.5), safeties (3), forced fumbles (45), and fumble recoveries (18). In an obituary published in The Dallas Morning News, NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw expressed his thoughts about the life of Derrick Thomas, I never looked at Derrick Thomas as a football player. I looked at Derrick Thomas as one of the finer people that I had ever been around and as a friend. The thing Ill always remember about Derrick is his smile, thats one thing Ill never get out of my mind. Derrick will hang over this stadium forever.



Dallas Morning News, February 9, 2000.

Kansas City Star, February 8, 2000.

New York Times, February 16, 2000.


Additional information for this profile was obtained from\latest\mainnews.asp?storyID-1304&cat=1 http://www.kcchiefsxom\rosters_stats\player.asp\nfl\news\2000\0208\343189.html

Michael J. Watkins

Thomas, Derrick

views updated May 23 2018

Derrick Thomas


American football player

As a linebacker, Derrick Thomas was a presence feared by opposing quarterbacks. He possessed great quickness and unbelievable strength, and always found a way to bring down the ball carrier. Consistently at the top of his game, Thomas was a perennial selection for the Pro Bowl, and in ten seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, became not only a dominant force on the field, but also a big part of the community through his generous giving and charitable work.

In what can only be described as a tragic loss, Thomas was paralyzed when his Suburban truck flipped on the icy roads near the Kansas City airport on January 23, 2000. He died only a few weeks later, on February 8, leaving an empty space both Kansas City and the Chiefs know they can never fill.

Growing Up

Derrick Thomas was born on January 1, 1967, in Miami, Florida. Chiefs fans know well the story of Thomas' childhood. When Derrick was 5, the North Vietnamese shot down his father, Robert James Thomas, an air force pilot, while he was piloting a B-52 Bomber. He was declared missing in action.

Edith Morgan, his mother, and Annie Adams, his grandmother, would raise Derrick. After his father was declared legally dead in 1980, Thomas rebelled. He was growing up in Miami's inner city, and he ended up getting into trouble. When he was fourteen, Thomas was arrested by the South Miami police and sent to the Dade Marine Institute, a program run much like a boot camp. It was the last stop for juvenile offenders before they were sent on to prison, and although Thomas hated it, he said later that it was the best thing to happen to him. He told Jeffrey Flanagan of the Kansas City Star that getting caught made him stop "running with the wrong people. Instead of sitting around and throwing rocks at cars and buses, and trying to figure out what place to rob, I put all my energy into football."

After leaving the detention center, Thomas went on to earn all-league honors at South Miami High School, which in turn earned him a scholarship to the University of Alabama, a powerhouse in college football. Thomas became a star, amassing sixty-seven tackles in his junior season and compiling a school-record eighteen sacks. When he was a senior, he was presented the Butkus Award, given to the country's top linebacker. He graduated from the Crimson Tide with fifty-two sacks and seventy-four tackles, a new school record.

Roll Tide to Kansas City

Marty Schottenheimer had been brought in to turn around the Kansas City Chiefs organization that fared poorly throughout much of the 1980s. His first order of business was to draft Thomas, picked fourth over-all by the Chiefs in the 1989 draft. Thomas made an immediate impact, recording ten sacks and fifty-five quarterback pressures. The Associated Press awarded him their Defensive Rookie of the Year Award, and he began a long series of Pro Bowl appearances, as well as winning the Mack Lee Award for best Chiefs Rookie.

Thomas helped usher in a new era for the Kansas City Chiefs. Throughout much of the nineties, the Chiefs were playoff contenders, something fans hadn't seen in a long time. Thomas established a Chiefs record for sacks in only his second season (20), and forced many fumbles, helping turn the Kansas City defense into one of the best in the league. In 1994, his sixth season in the NFL, Thomas would become the Chiefs' all time sack leader with 72.5 sacks.

In his final four seasons, Thomas continued to exhibit the high level of play he was known for, though an injury to his left triceps prior to the 1997 season kept him out for four games. When he returned to the field, he did so with an arm brace, thus limiting his mobility and effectiveness.

Career Statistics

C: Kansas City Chiefs.

Awards and Accomplishments

1988Butkus Award; All-American
1989Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year
1989-97Pro Bowl
1991Named Chiefs' Most Valuable Player
1993Named NFL's Man of the Year
1993Recipient of Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall of Fame Award
1993Designated by President George Bush as "832nd Point of Light" for his charity work in Kansas City
1994Named Chiefs' Most Valuable Player (second time)
1995Receives Byron "Whizzer" White Humanitarian Award

Compounding his physical woes were the problems the Chiefs were having as a team. They couldn't seem to coalesce. Coach Schottenheimer seemed to have lost control of his players, and in a 1998 game against the Denver Broncos, Thomas, his frustrations mounting, racked up three penalties in one defensive series, earning him a one-week suspension. At the season's end, when the Chiefs failed to make the playoffs, Schottenheimer retired. Thomas planned to take some time off and then get ready for the next season.

A Tragic End

Not wanting to miss the 1999 postseason, even if he could only to watch from the stands, Derrick Thomas, while driving to the Kansas City airport on January 23, 2000, was paralyzed when his truck flipped several times on the icy Interstate. He died only a few weeks later, on February 8.

Derrick Thomas was more than just a stellar athlete; he was an outstanding and giving human being. His Third and Long Foundation has helped hundreds of kids realize their educational goals and, like Thomas, over-come difficulty reading. His work off the field earned him the 1993 NFL Man of the Year.


1967Born January 1 in Miami, Florida, to Robert James Thomas and Edith Morgan
1972Father's plane shot down by North Vietnamese on December 17
1980Thomas' father declared legally dead
1981Arrested for breaking into a store and sentenced to a school for troubled kids
1984Earns All-League honors at South Miami High School
1985Enters Alabama on scholarship to play with Crimson Tide
1989Drafted fourth overall by Kansas City Chiefs
1990Sets NFL single-game sack record by sacking Seattle QB David Krieg 7 times, forcing two fumbles
1990Establishes the Third and Long Foundation, a charitable foundation focused on encouraging children to read and pursue their educational goals
1997Injures left triceps tendon and is out for four games; still earns spot on Pro Bowl team by end of year
1998Suspended for a week after being penalized three times in one defensive series in a game against Denver
1999Playing as a pass-rusher, records only seven sacks
2000Paralyzed on January 23 in car accident near Kansas City, Missouri
2000Dies on February 8 from cardio-respiratory arrest

The impact of Thomas' death was felt across the country, as fans mourned him for the loss of a great man as well as the tragic loss of a great football player.



Newsmakers 2000, Issue 3. Detroit: Gale Group, 2000.

Oblender, David G. (ed.) Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 25. Detroit: Gale Group, 2000.

Sports Stars. Series 1-4. UXL, 1994-98.

Thomas, Derrick. Forever a Chief: DT Always Giving Back. Chicago: Triumph Books, 2000.


Chicago Tribune (February 9, 2000).

Football Digest (February 1995).

Jet (February 21, 1994).

Kansas City Star (February 9, 2000).

Los Angeles Times (February 9, 2000).

Mravic, Mark. "Chief concern." Sports Illustrated (January 31, 2000): 28-30.

New York Times (February 9, 2000).

Silver, Michael. "Derrick Thomas Remembered" (obituary). Sports Illustrated (February 21, 2000): 21.

Sporting News (January 17, 1994).

Sporting News (January 24, 1994).

Sporting News (January 31, 1994).

Sporting News (January 9, 1995).

Sporting News (January 15, 1996).

USA Today (February 9, 2000).

Washington Post (February 9, 2000).


"Derrick Thomas (1967-2000).#x201D; CBS Sportsline. (January 2, 2003).

"Derrick Thomas Remembered." Topeka Capital Journal Online. (January 2, 2003).

Sketch by Eric Lagergren