View Full Version : Chiefs Whitlock in 2000: We never got the chance to say thank you

Tribal Warfare
02-08-2010, 11:24 PM
Whitlock in 2000: We never got the chance to say thank you (http://www.kansascity.com/160/story/1727859.html)
The Kansas City Star

Editor's note: This column originally ran on Feb. 9, 2000, the day after Derrick Thomas' death.

Thank you, Derrick Thomas. Thank you for touching our hearts. Thank you for touching our children's lives. Thank you for the joy you brought us on NFL Sundays. Most of all, thank you for teaching us how to deal with adversity.

Derrick Thomas, the soul of the Chiefs for 11 years, left us Tuesday morning. Complications from his single-car accident on Jan. 23 caused his death.

Sudden death.

We never had time or the opportunity to thank Derrick properly.

A private plane whisked Thomas home to Miami the day after his SUV flipped on Interstate 435. Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital specializes in treating spinal-cord injuries and paralysis. Thomas went home to prepare for the fight of his life. He was surrounded by family, blood relatives, lifelong friends, the men and women who turned a hard-knock kid into a man of unlimited compassion and desire to do right.

Back here, we anxiously awaited news of his recovery, looking forward to the opportunity to welcome Derrick back to his adopted home.

We thought we'd have time and the opportunity to tell Derrick just how much we loved him, just how much we cared for him as a man, not as a superstar linebacker.

Never has a last thank-you seemed so important. The suddenness of Thomas' death is a second tragedy more cruel than the first. We had prepared for the long fight that faced Thomas. We had contemplated ways we could help.

There was no way to prepare for this. There was no way to anticipate a late-morning phone call saying that Thomas had passed, and so had our last opportunity to tell Derrick just how special he was.

When the Derrick Thomas book is written it should be about a man who overcame every obstacle life dealt him except one.

"It's a story about a kid who basically came from nowhere, from the streets, and turned out to be a great man in this society," Thomas' high school wrestling coach, Wilbert Johnson, whispered into the phone Tuesday evening. "I'm proud of everything Derrick accomplished. I'm glad I played a small part in his life."

Thomas was born on the first day of 1967.

His parents were poor, young and unprepared for the responsibility of raising a child. His father, Robert Thomas, later joined the Air Force, became a pilot and in 1972 was shot down and killed in Vietnam.

Obstacle No. 1: no father.

Obstacle No. 2 was his mother's youth. Unready for the responsibility, Thomas' mother, Edith Morgan, left her son in the care of her mother, who lived in Perrine, Fla., a tiny, economically-depressed city just outside of Miami.

"Perrine is the kind of place you don't want to raise a family," Ransom Hill said a couple of weeks ago. Hill grew up in Perrine. He lived just a block away from Thomas' grandmother. Hill is the principal of MacArthur South Alternative school, where Thomas landed for a few months after graduating from Dade Marine Institute, the day school Florida's juvenile courts banished Thomas to after he ran afoul of the law.

Hill took notice of Thomas' athletic ability. He contacted friends at South Miami High and suggested that Thomas finish his final two years of school at South Miami, where he could play sports. Hill also suggested South Miami because he knew the coaches there would keep Thomas out of trouble.

Thomas wasn't the star of his high school football team. Another linebacker, Keith Carter, received most of the acclaim and attention from recruiters. Poor grades scared many recruiters away from Thomas. Alabama was one of just a handful of Division I programs to offer Thomas a scholarship. And Thomas had to attend summer school to qualify academically.

He became a star at Alabama, where he was a two-time first-team All-American.

Carl Peterson and Marty Schottenheimer used the fourth-overall pick in the 1989 NFL draft to select Thomas. Troy Aikman, Tony Mandarich and Barry Sanders were selected ahead of Thomas.

Of course, we know what happened when Thomas arrived here. His speed pass rush was the foundation of a defense that led the Chiefs to a decade of consistent winning and playoff appearances. He was selected to nine straight Pro Bowls. His community service and Third and Long Foundation, a literacy program for children, earned him the 1993 Edge NFL Man of the Year award.

A rough and controversial 1998 season, which included his infamous "Monday Night Football" meltdown and temporary loss of his starting job, caused Thomas to mature on and off the field. He handled the adversity of the 1998 season the way he handled adversity throughout his life: head-on with a commitment to turn a negative into a positive.

A year ago, he bought a commercial roofing company. He ran the company himself five days a week, even during the season. He said the extra work gave him focus and limited his time for mischief. Known as the NFL's "social chairman," Thomas slowed his night-life carousing. He had a plan and was well into changing himself from football star to former football player turned businessman.

On Jan. 23, Thomas and two friends, Mike Tellis and John Hagenbusch, hopped in Thomas's SUV. Thomas and Tellis were catching a plane to St. Louis. They were going to watch the second half of the NFC championship game and celebrate with the Rams afterward. Hagenbusch was going to drive Thomas' SUV back to Thomas' Independence home.

Thomas' vehicle hit a patch of ice, skidded and flipped out of control.

Thomas was lucky to have survived the crash. Tellis, Thomas' longtime friend, died at the scene. He and Thomas were thrown from the vehicle. Hagenbusch, the only one wearing a seat belt, walked away from the crash with minor injuries.

Thomas spent two weeks and a day in Miami. According to friends, he had already plotted his return to Kansas City. He wanted to rehab here. By mid-March Thomas wanted to be back in his Independence home. Friends had begun preparing his home for his arrival.

"Boss Man 58" wanted back in his castle. He bossed his friends and loved ones from his hospital bed. "Derrick was Derrick" became the catch phrase when someone who had seen Thomas would describe his mood, his attitude. He hated hospital food, so he had his family bring him food from home.

The toughest part of the accident for Thomas had been the death of Tellis. Thomas was in remarkably good spirits about his own injuries. Friends would break down and cry at the sight of him immobilized or in a wheelchair, and Thomas would cheer them up.

"Come on, now. I'm not going to be like this forever," he would say.

"God has a plan for all of us," Wilbert Johnson said. "It seems like it takes death to make us immortals."

Tribal Warfare
02-08-2010, 11:24 PM

Mr. BackseatModNuts
02-08-2010, 11:25 PM
Crazy. 10 years.

02-09-2010, 12:12 AM
The first month or so of 2000 really set an ominous tone for the decade.

The Chiefs losing the final regular season game of the 1999 season (and their first game of the new decade) in that heartbreaker against the Raiders (blowing a 17 point lead, the John Baker kickoffs out of bounds) and then the DT tragedy.

02-09-2010, 12:52 AM
The day our defense died.

But yeah, let's take an OT at 5th overall this year.:shake:

02-09-2010, 08:15 AM
Crazy. 10 years.10 years?:eek: my how time flies.