Derrick Vincent Thomas (January 1, 1967 – February 8, 2000), nicknamed D.T., was an American footballlinebacker and defensive end for the Kansas City Chiefs of the National Football League (NFL). He played his entire 11-year career for the Chiefs after being drafted fourth overall in the 1989 NFL Draft. Thomas, a member of the class of 2009 Pro Football Hall of Fame, was a premier football player throughout the 1990s and is considered one of the best pass rushers of all time. In 1990 against the Seattle Seahawks, he set an NFL record with seven sacks in a single game. On February 8, 2000, Thomas died from a massive blood clot that developed in his paralyzed lower extremities and traveled to his lungs. His paralysis was the result of severe injuries sustained in a car accident weeks earlier.
Alongside Cornelius Bennett and later Keith McCants, 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 after a season which saw him set an NCAA record 27 sacks along with finishing 10th in Heisman Trophy balloting. He currently holds the single season NCAA FBS sack record with 27 and what was the career sack record with 52 career sacks. He was also selected as a unanimous 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. 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 elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2014.
Thomas was selected in the first round of the 1989 NFL Draft, fourth overall, and was signed by the Chiefs. He would remain with the Chiefs for his entire career.
Thomas's rookie year was very successful, earning him Defensive Rookie of the Year by the Sporting News, and was the first Chiefs' linebacker to be elected to the Pro Bowl in his first season since Hall of Fame player Bobby Bell. He would appear in nine Pro Bowls during his career.
Thomas was perhaps most well known for his ability to sack the quarterback and was named an All-Pro 6 times, and was voted to 9 Pro Bowls in his 10-year career. He totaled 126.5 sacks in his career, ranking 12th all-time in NFL history, and still holds the single game record of 7 quarterback sacks, a feat which occurred against Seattle's Dave Krieg on Veterans Day, 1990. Ironically, it was a sack that Thomas didn't get that decided the game: on the final play, Krieg eluded a blitzing Thomas and threw a touchdown pass to give the Seahawks a 17-16 win. The next player to come close to breaking this record was Thomas himself, recording 6 sacks against the Oakland Raiders in the regular season opener in 1998.
He is one of only 25 NFL players to achieve 100 or more sacks, and ranks fifth all-time in Chiefs' history with 649 career tackles. During his career, he also recorded 1 interception and recovered 19 fumbles, returning them for 161 yards and 4 touchdowns. Thomas established Chiefs career records for sacks, safeties, fumble recoveries, and forced fumbles. Off the field, Thomas established the Third and Long Foundation in 1990, which helps inner city youth learn to read and teaches life skills through educational and cultural programs.
On January 31, 2009, Thomas was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his fifth year of eligibility.
On January 23, 2000, Thomas' 1999 Chevrolet Suburban went off Interstate 435 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. Police reports indicated that Thomas, who was driving, was speeding at approximately 100 m.p.h. even though snow and ice were accumulating on the roadway. Thomas continued weaving erratically through traffic until the time of the accident. Thomas and one of the passengers were not wearing seat belts and both were thrown from the car; the passenger 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 cardio-respiratory arrest and died as a result of a pulmonary embolism, a massive blood clot that developed in his paralyzed lower extremities and traveled through his venous system to his lungs. Months later, Thomas' family sued General Motors for $73 million in damages stemming from the accident that Thomas caused. In 2004 a jury ruled that the family was not entitled to any money.
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 even life-threatening situations in the Kansas City area. Through social, cultural and educational activities and programs, the charity helps participating children succeed in school and in the outside world.
On January 31, 2009, Thomas was named among six players selected for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was officially inducted in Canton, Ohio on August 8, 2009, after four years as a finalist in the Hall of Fame voting. The Chiefs announced on June 23, 2009 that they would retire #58 in honor of Thomas, and the retirement ceremony took place on December 6, 2009 when the Chiefs played the Denver Broncos.
Thomas's mother established the Moms2Moms58 Foundation to honor her son's legacy. The foundation works with professional football players, non-profit organizations, community leaders, political figures and entertainers to educate the public on car seat and seatbelt safety, promote children's health and teach sports safety to inner-city youth. Each year, Moms2Moms58 hosts the "Celebration of Life Celebrity Weekend" in Derrick's hometown of Miami. The Celebration of Life was established to honor the life and charitable works of Thomas through music, entertainment and fundraising for community enrichment programs. Moms2Moms58 and Celebration of Life are administered through 501(c)(3) status.
On his The Almeria Club Recordings album, country music singer Hank Williams, Jr. performed a song called "Cross on the Highway" in memory of Thomas and Mike Tellis, the other victim of the fatal 2000 crash. Williams had been a friend of both Thomas and Tellis.
Derrick Thomas was survived by his children, Burgandie, Derrick Jr., Derrion, Derrius, Donnell Robert, Micayla, Alexa, as well as his mother, sisters, brother, nieces and nephews. Derrion attended Blue Springs South High School, in Blue Springs, Mo., graduating in 2009. Shortly after committing to Missouri, he announced that would be attending Longview Community College in Lee's Summit, Missouri to work on his GPA. After leaving Longview, he walked on to the Missouri football team.