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This weekend is Derrick Thomas' fourth attempt for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as the board of selectors will meet Saturday in Phoenix, Arizona to determine the candidates. We’ll know if Thomas made it some time around 2 PM central time, when an announcement will be made exclusively on the NFL Network.
If you have followed the Chiefs, or Alabama football, for any amount of time, you already know the type of impact player Derrick Thomas was. In Kansas City, Thomas not only was an All-Pro on the field, his off the field endeavors helped children to read among other acts of philanthropy that were widely recognized across the country.
It’s hard to believe seven years have passed since we last saw Thomas on the field. His last game as a Chief was fittingly against the Oakland Raiders on New Year’s Day in 2000. That game sent the franchise spiraling in a downward direction for several years.
Just a few weeks later, Thomas suffered a severe spinal injury in an automobile accident on an icy day in late January. On February 8, 2000, he passed. There is no question Thomas has been missed by his family, the Chiefs organization and the Kansas City community.
During his years on the field, he was arguably the cornerstone of KC’s defense, from 1989 to 1999. He was selected to nine consecutive Pro Bowls (1989-1997), and voted NFL Man of the Year in 1993.
Seventeen years after the fact, Thomas still holds the NFL single-game record for sacks, which came when he took down Seattle quarterback Dave Krieg seven times in a 1990 game.
In past attempts to enter the Hall of Fame, Thomas has fallen short for several reasons. One knock is he wasn’t part of a Super Bowl winner and never played in a Super Bowl.
The main criticism is that Thomas was viewed by many as a one-dimensional linebacker, believed to be a liability in both pass coverage and run support.
But when it comes to rushing the passer, only one other linebacker drew the attention Derrick Thomas did - Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor.
From 1989-1991, Thomas played in a 3-4 scheme, primarily as a blitzing linebacker in passing situations. During this period he amassed 44 sacks, averaging 14.5 sacks per season.
The rest of Thomas’ career (1992-1999), he would work out of various 4-3 schemes. In 1997, Chiefs defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham came up with "The Falcon" position in an attempt to take advantage of Thomas’ pass-rush skills. During this period he amassed 82.5 sacks, averaging 10 sacks per year.
I believe anyone who thinks Thomas was a one dimensional player didn’t watch him enough. Offensive coordinators had to figure out a way to stop Thomas from ruining both passing and running plays - he could simply change the course of a game in one snap.
How many defensive players have you seen sack the quarterback, force a fumble and then return it for a touchdown? How many defensive players have you seen blow up a running play, force a fumble and run it in for a score? Derrick Thomas accomplished both in the NFL.
His stats aside, Thomas spent many years playing in a scheme that didn’t capitalize on his main strength, but still excelled. And even in his 11th season, he still could change the course of a game - just ask the 1999 Minnesota Vikings and quarterback Jeff George.
That’s what a hall of fame player is all about – being the best at what he does, and being able to put his team in a position to win a game. That was Derrick Thomas.
SUMMARY OF DERRICK THOMAS’ CAREER ACCOMPLISHMENTS
- 126.5 career sacks.
- Seven sacks in one game.
- 444 career quarterback pressures.
- Single-season best 20 sacks (fifth-best single-season total in NFL History).
- 558 solo tackles, 170 assist, 728 total tackles.
- 45 forced fumbles (Chiefs record).
- 19 fumbles recovered (Chiefs record).
- Forced two fumbles in six different games against six different teams.
- Four fumbles returned for touchdowns (Only two players in NFL history have more).
- Three career safeties (Only two players in NFL history have more).
- Started 158 of 169 NFL games he was active for.
- Won 102 regular-season games from 1990-1999.
- Went to the playoffs six consecutive seasons.
- Went to the playoffs seven times in 11 seasons.
- Played in 10 playoff games, amassing 7.5 sacks, four quarterback pressures and 36 solo tackles.
Also up for the Hall of Fame this year, as a senior candidate, is former Chiefs cornerback Emmitt Thomas, already a member of the Chiefs Ring of Fame.