Must-see TV: Remembering the Chiefs’ Derrick Thomas
September 22, 2013
Fan or nonfan, most every installment of NFL Films’ A Football Life is worth an hour of your viewing time. It’s that good.
In the Kansas City area later this month, it’ll be must-see TV.
The twice-Emmy-nominated documentary hits on one of the most compelling chapters in the history of the hometown Chiefs, recalling both the brilliance and gone-too-soon tragedy that marked the life and career of All Pro linebacker Derrick Thomas. The episode airs Tuesday, Sept. 24 at 8 p.m. CT on the NFL Network.
The timing is serendipitous. The Chiefs are striving to revive the city’s football passions, coming off a forgettable 2012 season turned horrific by linebacker Javon Belcher’s murder of his live-in girlfriend and subsequent suicide at the team’s training complex. On the field, Kansas City staggered to a 2-14 record.
Matching that win total in the first two weeks of this season was a nice step toward recovery.
Recall the last time the Chiefs were consistent winners. It was the 1990s, and Thomas was their centerpiece – 6-foot-3, 255 pounds and stunningly quick and athletic. He played 11 seasons, setting franchise records that still stand for career sacks (126½) and fumbles, both, forced (45) and recovered (19). After making just one playoff appearance in 17 years prior to his arrival, the Chiefs made seven appearances in eight Thomas-fueled years ending in 1997.
A little more than two years later, he was gone. Thomas was paralyzed in a car crash on an icy highway in January 2000 and died that Feb. 8. He was 33.
There is more to his story. Thomas was only 5 when his father’s plane was shot down en route back from a mission in Vietnam – codenamed “Operation Linebacker Two” – in 1972. The younger Thomas became a supporter of veterans’ causes and was given the Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall of Fame Award.
He became known for his humanitarian efforts in Kansas City, primarily through his Third and Long Foundation, and was honored as one of President George H.W. Bush’s 1,000 Points of Light in 1992. A year later, he was named the NFL’s Man of the Year.
Complicating that legacy was the seven children Thomas left behind when he died, by five different mothers.
In its third season, A Football Life tells such stories well. Previous episodes this month have focused on former San Diego Chargers star running back LaDainian Tomlinson and Hall of Fame coach Don Shula. The only other time the documentary series has touched on the Chiefs was last December, when it featured longtime Oakland Raiders (and late-in-his-career Kansas City) running back Marcus Allen.
Thomas’ story also made it into a definitive book on the Chiefs available through the Mid-Continent Public Library, The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly: Heart-Pounding, Jaw-Dropping, and Gut-Wrenching Moments in Kansas City Chiefs History by Bill Althaus of The (Independence, Mo.) Examiner.
Check it out. Check out the new doc. And revisit an indelible character in Kansas City's sports annals.
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