Derrick Thomas HOFAugust 8th, 2009 by Lee Eldridge
I’m not typically an emotional guy. And I don’t tend to idolize musicians, actors or athletes. But there was Derrick Thomas.
I grew up an NFL fan, but wasn’t much of a Chiefs’ fan until Marty Schottenheimer started coaching the team in the late ’80s. I became a Chiefs’ Junkie. Arrowhead had become the most electrifying place in the country to watch a professional football game. The defense just had this swagger every time they took the field. Great players making great plays. Dale Carter. James Hasty. Neil Smith. Dan Saleaumua. Donnie Edwards. Mark Collins. Bill Maas. But at the center of it all was Derrick Thomas. Bigger than life. Chasing down quarterbacks. Swatting away the football with his tomahawk chop. Creating havoc at every turn. He was Superman in red and gold with an arrowhead on his helmet.
I remember very clearly when I heard about the car accident. It was January 23, 2000. Derrick had rolled his Suburban on the way to the airport. The roads were icy. And he hadn’t been wearing a seat belt. Thomas was driving. And reportedly driving recklessly. Another passenger was without a seat belt, was thrown from the car, and died instantly. The third passenger was wearing his seat belt, and walked away from the scene uninjured.
Superman was alive, but not well. He spent two weeks in a Miami hospital paralyzed from the chest down. I thought he’d pull through. I think everyone, including Derrick, thought he’d pull through. Reports were that he was in good spirits, and already planning his new future.
He died two weeks later from a pulmonary embolism. I cried.
I think I was as surprised at my reaction as I was about his death. Maybe it was because we were roughly the same age. Maybe it was because of that smile. Maybe it was because he genuinely seemed like such a great guy. Or maybe it’s because Superman isn’t supposed to die. Lex Luther may have the Kryptonite and have Superman on the verge of defeat. But somehow, Superman is always supposed to win. On February 8, 2000, Lex Luther and his handful of Kryptonite had finally defeated Superman. But worst of all, it was Superman’s mistake that lead to his undoing.
Much has been made since about Derrick’s personal life. He had seven children from multiple mothers. He certainly hadn’t been the model of responsibility. And many began to doubt whether he’d ever get into the Hall of Fame. I never doubted. All you had to do was watch the film. Derrick was among the best of the best, and I’ll be proud to watch him inducted into the Hall of Fame.