Every Pro Football Hall of Fame class has good stories and eloquent speeches. One of the most compelling this weekend, as the Hall inducts six new members, is
As has been well-documented, Thomas was a superb pass rusher for the Kansas City Chiefs and a concerned citizen. His personal flaw, perhaps, was that he fathered seven children, with multiple women, and was not married. When Thomas died from injuries sustained in a January 2000 car crash, the oldest son, Derrion, now 19, became the man of the family.
Derrion used to sit at the 50-yard-line at Arrowhead Stadium for Chiefs home games, and he and his father would talk about school, life and most anything but football as he grew. Derrion was a swimmer in his formative years, then followed in his dad's footsteps by becoming a pass rusher at Blue Springs South High in the Kansas City area. In his senior season last fall, his team faced prohibitive favorite Rockhurst in the Class 6 state quarterfinals, and the day of the game, one of his dad's old friends from the Chiefs, equipment man
"When the accident happened and Derrick passed away, we took all his equipment and put it in a trunk and locked it away," Wright said this week. "We figured someday his mom or the Hall of Fame would want it. But with this game coming up for Derrion, I just got the idea in the back of my mind that maybe this was the special moment and we should open the trunk. Derrion came by, and I said, 'You got something a little extra for Rockhurst? This is a big game.' And I gave him his dad's shoulder pads. It was, well, it was very emotional for both me and him.''
Said Derrion: "It was surreal. I could not believe it. I didn't even know the pads still were around.''
Derrion is 6-foot-3, 210 pounds. His dad played at 6-3, 243. Derrion didn't even know if the pads would fit. But they did -- like a glove. When he put them on for the first time, he thought the pads had been through a lot, and he couldn't wear them and not play great.
"When I put them on, I just knew I had to try to play at the level he played at,'' said Derrion. "I felt like he was with me. I don't want to say it was exactly like this, but I felt like I really had to live up to his legacy that night.''
Rockhurst, one of the favorites for the state title, got blitzkrieged by Derrion Thomas that night. His five sacks -- a career best -- led Blue Springs South to a 14-9 upset victory. "I never felt like that before in a game, that energized,'' he said.
This weekend, Derrion will bring the shoulder pads to Canton, to share them with the Hall of Fame. He thought of bringing the pads with him to the University of Missouri, where he'll be a walk-on freshman linebacker this fall, but he thought they belonged with his father's bust. For posterity.
When an enshrinee is deceased, a video tribute to him is played, then an acceptance speech is made by someone who was particularly meaningful to him. NFL Films recently interviewed Derrion for the video piece, and former Chiefs president
The weekend kicks off Friday afternoon with an enshrinees' luncheon. Some 82 Hall of Famers will be there, and old war stories will be swapped. Friday night, 4,000 will gather at the Canton Civic Center for the annual enshrinees dinner, when the yellow coats will be formally presented to the Class of 2009 --