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Derrick Thomas

Derrick Thomas
refer to caption
Thomas with the Chiefs
No. 58
Personal information
Born:(1967-01-01)January 1, 1967
Miami, Florida, U.S.
Died:February 8, 2000(2000-02-08) (aged 33)
Miami, Florida, U.S.
Height:6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)
Weight:255 lb (116 kg)
Career information
High school:South Miami
(Miami, Florida)
College:Alabama (1985–1988)
NFL draft:1989 / Round: 1 / Pick: 4
Career history
Career highlights and awards
NFL record
  • Most sacks in a game: 7
Career NFL statistics
Total tackles:641
Forced fumbles:41
Fumble recoveries:19
Defensive touchdowns:4
Player stats at PFR

Derrick Vincent Thomas (January 1, 1967 – February 8, 2000), nicknamed "D. T.", was an American football linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs of the National Football League (NFL). Considered one of the greatest pass rushers of all time,[1] he played 11 seasons with the Chiefs until his death in 2000. Thomas played college football for the Alabama Crimson Tide, where he won the Butkus Award, and was selected fourth overall by Kansas City in the 1989 NFL draft. During his career, he received nine Pro Bowl and two first-team All-Pro selections, and set the single-game sacks record.

After the Chiefs' 1999 season, Thomas was rendered paraplegic by a car crash and died two weeks later from a pulmonary embolism. He was posthumously inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 2014.

Early life

Born in Miami, Florida, Thomas was raised by his mother Edith Morgan.[2] His father, Air Force Captain and B-52 pilot Robert James Thomas, died during a mission in the Vietnam War.[3] Thomas played his high school football at South Miami Senior High School.

College career

Alongside Cornelius Bennett and later Keith McCants at Alabama, Thomas spearheaded one of the best defensive lines in college football and smashed many Crimson Tide defensive records, including sacks in a single season. He was awarded the Butkus Award in 1988. He was also selected as a consensus All-American at the conclusion of the 1988 season, a season which culminated in the Crimson Tide's thrilling 29-28 victory over Army in the 1988 Sun Bowl. In 2000, Thomas was named a Sun Bowl Legend.[4] He was awarded the Sington Soaring Spirit Award by the Lakeshore Foundation. This annual award is named for University of Alabama football legend Fred Sington. Thomas was posthumously inducted to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2014.[5]

Professional career

Thomas was selected fourth overall in the first round of the 1989 NFL draft by the Kansas City Chiefs.[6] He was the first selection made by new head coach Marty Schottenheimer.[7][8]

Thomas would record his first career sack in the Chiefs week 2 game against the Los Angeles Raiders. That game was also his first multi-sack game as he finished with 2.5 sacks. He would record another 7.5 sacks that season finishing with 10 his rookie year. He was named AP Defensive Rookie of the Year. He was also named to the Pro Bowl.

In his second year, Thomas recorded at least a half of a sack in each of the Chiefs first 5 games. In the Chiefs week 10 game against the Seattle Seahawks, he broke Fred Dean's 7-year old record of sacks in a single game with 7 sacks. The quarterback he sacked in that game, Dave Krieg, would become his teammate 2 seasons later. However, on the game's final play, Thomas had a clear shot for an eighth sack, but missed it and the Seahawks would throw a game winning touchdown after the missed sack. He would later call that play the one play in his career he wished he could have a second chance at.[9] He would finish the season with what would prove to be a career high 20 sacks, setting a franchise record that stood until it was broken by Justin Houston in 2014. He finished 2nd in defensive player of the year voting and was named 1st team All-Pro.

The following season, he would record his first career touchdown on a 23-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the Chiefs week 11 game against the Los Angeles Rams.

Thomas would record double digits sacks for each of the first four seasons in his career. In total, 7 of his 11 seasons in the NFL he recorded double digit sack totals.

In the Chiefs 1999 season, Thomas recorded a career low for sacks with 7. He would also record his first career interception in the Chiefs week 8 win over the San Diego Chargers. He would record the final sack of his career in the Chiefs week 15 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. In what would be the final game of his career, as he would die 37 days later, the Chiefs played their rival the Oakland Raiders. With a victory in the game, the Chiefs would qualify for the playoffs. The Chiefs lost in overtime 41–38. He didn't manage to record a sack on his former teammate Rich Gannon, but he did record 6 total tackles.


Thomas was named 1st team All-Pro 2 times and was named to the Pro Bowl 9 times.[10] He is 17th all-time in sacks and at the time of his death in 2000, he was 9th all-time with 126.5. He remains the Chiefs' all-time leader in sacks, safeties, forced fumbles, and fumble recoveries.[11][12] During his career, he recorded 1 interception and recovered 19 fumbles, returning them for 161 yards and 4 touchdowns. Thomas said in interviews his favorite quarterback to sack was Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway, whom he sacked 26 times. The sack total over Elway is most against any quarterback in Thomas' career and the most any individual player sacked Elway.[13] He was posthumously inducted into the Chiefs Hall of Fame in 2000, with the Chiefs breaking the tradition of waiting four years after the end of the player's career. In 2009, he was posthumously inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.[14] Later that same year, the Chiefs retired the number 58 in honor of him. Following his death until it was officially retired, the Chiefs did not reissue the number.[15] The Chiefs also named their player of the year award in Thomas' honor, an award he won twice himself prior to the award being named in his honor. He is the only NFL player to die during their career that was later inducted to the Hall of Fame.

NFL career statistics

Led the league
Bold Career high

Regular season

Year Team Games Tackles Fumbles
GP GS Cmb Solo Ast Sck Sfty FF FR Yds TD Blk
1989 KC 16 16 75 56 19 10.0 0 3 1 0 0 0
1990 KC 15 15 63 47 16 20.0 0 6 2 14 0 0
1991 KC 16 15 79 60 19 13.5 0 4 4 23 1 0
1992 KC 16 16 67 54 13 14.5 0 8 3 0 1 0
1993 KC 16 15 43 32 11 8.0 0 4 1 86 1 0
1994 KC 16 15 71 67 4 11.0 1 3 3 11 0 0
1995 KC 15 15 53 48 5 8.0 0 2 1 0 0 0
1996 KC 16 14 55 49 6 13.0 0 4 1 0 0 1
1997 KC 12 10 34 30 4 9.5 1 3 0 0 0 0
1998 KC 15 10 42 35 7 12.0 1 2 2 27 1 0
1999 KC 16 16 60 54 6 7.0 0 2 1 0 0 0
Career 169 157 642 532 110 126.5 3 41 19 161 4 1


On January 23, 2000, Thomas' SUV went off Interstate 435 in Clay County as he and two passengers were driving to Kansas City International Airport during a snowstorm for a flight to St. Louis to watch the NFC Championship Game between the St. Louis Rams and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Police reports indicated that Thomas, who was driving, was speeding at approximately 70 mph even though snow and ice were rapidly accumulating on the roadway.[16] Thomas and one of the passengers were not wearing seat belts and both were thrown from the car; the passenger, Michael Tellis, was killed instantly. The second passenger, who was wearing his safety belt, walked away from the scene uninjured. Thomas was left paralyzed from the chest down. By early February, Thomas was being treated at Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital. The morning of February 8, 2000, while being transferred from his hospital bed to a wheelchair on his way to therapy, Thomas told his mother he was not feeling well. His eyes then rolled back, recalled Frank Eismont, an orthopedic surgeon at Jackson Memorial Hospital. Eismont said Thomas went into cardiorespiratory arrest and died as a result of a pulmonary embolism, a massive blood clot that developed in his legs and traveled to his lungs.[17] Months later, Thomas' family sued General Motors for $73 million in damages stemming from the accident. In 2004, a jury ruled that the family was not entitled to any money.[18][19]

Charity work

In 1990, Thomas founded the Derrick Thomas Third and Long Foundation. The foundation's mission is to "sack illiteracy" and change the lives of 9- to 13-year-old urban children facing challenging and life-threatening situations in the Kansas City area.[citation needed]

The Derrick Thomas Academy, a charter school in Kansas City, Missouri, opened in September 2001. It served nearly 1,000 children from kindergarten through eighth grade until it closed in 2013.[20]


  1. ^ "Top 10 pass rushers in NFL history". October 7, 2008. Archived from the original on February 6, 2009. Retrieved February 1, 2009.
  2. ^ Farmer, Sam (January 31, 2020). "Derrick Thomas still chief in minds of Kansas City faithful as Super Bowl approaches". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 28, 2020.
  3. ^ Leone, Dario (December 22, 2018). "Remembering Capt. Thomas, the co-pilot of Charcoal 01, the first B-52 shot down during Operation Linebacker II". The Aviation Geek Club. Retrieved December 20, 2019.
  4. ^ "2000 Legend - Derrick Thomas". Archived from the original on July 7, 2012. Retrieved May 31, 2012.
  5. ^ National Football Foundation (May 22, 2014). "NFF Proudly Announces Impressive 2014 College Football Hall of Fame Class". Retrieved May 22, 2014.
  6. ^ "1989 NFL Draft Listing". Retrieved May 26, 2023.
  7. ^ National Football League. "NFL Draft History - 1989". National Football League. Retrieved December 3, 2017.
  8. ^ National Football League. "Derrick Thomas Player Profile". National Football League. Retrieved December 3, 2017.
  9. ^ Sports Illustrated. "Most NFL Single Game Sacks". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved December 3, 2017.
  10. ^ Pro Football Reference. "Derrick Thomas". Pro Football Reference. Retrieved December 3, 2017.
  11. ^ "All-time defensive leaders".
  12. ^ Kansas City Chiefs. "2017 Kansas Chiefs Media Guide" (PDF). Kansas City Chiefs. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 5, 2017. Retrieved December 5, 2017.
  13. ^ "John Elway suddenly likes No. 58". May 2011.
  14. ^ Covitz, Randy (January 31, 2008). "Derrick Thomas elected to Hall of Fame. His son accepted the award in the hall of fame for Derrick Thomas". The Kansas City Star website. The McClatchy Company. Archived from the original on February 1, 2009. Retrieved February 1, 2009.
  15. ^ "LB Derrick Thomas Will Have His #58 Retired, Family to Receive HOF Ring at Arrowhead vs. Denver on December 6th". Kansas City Chiefs Website. Archived from the original on June 27, 2009. Retrieved June 23, 2009.
  16. ^ "Chiefs' Thomas dead at 33". Associated Press. February 8, 2000. Archived from the original on September 21, 2013. Retrieved August 26, 2013.
  17. ^ "Blood Clot Killed Thomas, Doctors Say". Associated Press. February 10, 2000. Archived from the original on September 21, 2013. Retrieved August 26, 2013.
  18. ^ "Thomas family sought $73M in suit". August 17, 2004. Retrieved August 26, 2013.
  19. ^ "Thomas Estate Sale Sums It up".
  20. ^ Koepp, Paul (July 24, 2013). "Closing of Derrick Thomas Academy leaves legal mess". Kansas City Business Journal. Retrieved February 12, 2017.
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Derrick Thomas
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