TAMPA, Fla. | Linebacker Derrick Thomas, the ferocious pass rusher and cornerstone of the Chiefs’ teams of the 1990s, was elected today to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Thomas, who played during 1989-99 and died from injuries sustained in a January 2000 auto accident, was elected in his fifth year of eligibility.
In addition to Thomas, the Class of 2009 will include former Buffalo Bills defensive end Bruce Smith; Bills owner Ralph Wilson; Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Oakland defensive back Rod Woodson; Vikings guard Randall McDaniel and Dallas wide receiver Bob Hayes.
Induction will be on Aug. 8. Thomas will join eight others enshrined in Canton, Ohio, as members of the Chiefs — quarterback Len Dawson, defensive tackle Buck Buchanan, linebackers Bobby Bell and Willie Lanier, cornerback Emmitt Thomas, kicker Jan Stenerud as well as owner Lamar Hunt and coach Hank Stram.
Thomas, the fourth overall pick of the 1989 draft from Alabama, was the initial first-round draft pick by Chiefs president Carl Peterson and coach Marty Schottenheimer after they took over leadership of the club.
Thomas, the centerpiece of Schottenheimer’s defense, helped trigger the revival of the franchise, leading the Chiefs to the playoffs seven times in eight years during 1990-97.
He helped define the art of the sack and strip of the quarterback. Thomas had 126 1/2 sacks, which ranked ninth in NFL history at the time of his death. He set the NFL single-game record with seven sacks against Seattle in 1990; and he nearly matched it, recording six sacks against Oakland in 1998, giving him two of the top three sack days in league history.
Thomas, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s NFL All-Decade Team of the 1990s, led the NFL with 20 sacks in 1990. No NFL player registered more sacks during the decade of the 1990s than Thomas’ 116 1/2 .
But Thomas was not merely satisfied with sacking the quarterback. He didn’t consider the job compete without stripping the ball from him and causing a fumble. During his career, Thomas forced 45 fumbles, recorded 19 fumbles, and returned four fumbles for touchdowns. Only two NFL players have returned more fumbles for touchdowns, and only two players were credited with more safeties than Thomas’ three.
Beyond the playing field, Thomas was a humanitarian. After his second season in Kansas City, he established the Third and Long Foundation that encouraged youngsters to read, a program that continues to this day. In 1993, Thomas was voted NFL Man of the Year for his work in the community, and in 1992, he was saluted by President George H. Bush as his 832nd Point of Light. Thomas was the only NFL player so honored.