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Carl Peterson's Derrick Thomas Hall of Fame Speech

Former Chiefs GM Carl Peterson gave this speech inducting the late Derrick Thomas into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. With Will Shields up for the Hall of Fame again this year, we bring this Carl Peterson speech back out for the memories. Watch the video of his speech here. Text is below.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Ladies and Gentleman, to present and enshrine Derrick Thomas, please welcome Carl Peterson and Derrion Thomas....

In the spring of 1989, myself, Marty Schottenheimer and Bill Cowher went to Tuscaloosa, Alabama to work out a player we hoped to consider for our #1 draft choice. He was an extraordinary person and his head coach at Alabama, said 'Great player, great person and you'll never tire the young man out.'

Derrick Thomas didn't work out for us at the NFL Combine and we were a little hot about it.  It was a very hot day in Tuscaloosa on the astroturf and Bill Cowher began to work him out.  He worked him out, and he worked him out.

He gave him every LB drill he knew. He came back to Marty and said, 'What do you think?' After every drill, Derrick would come back, give us that smile, that unbelievable smile, and say, 'Coach what else would you like to see?'

I said, 'Let's see some more.'  Bill gave him all the defensive line drills, one drill after another after another. And every time, after the drill, Derrick would come over and smile at us and say, 'What else would you like to see?'

There were four of his teammates working out with us at that time too.  And by now they had fallen away totally exhausted.  Bill Cowher came back and said, 'I'm running out of drills.'  I said, 'Let's just see some more.'

He drilled him with all the defensive backs drills that he knew.  Bill came back and said, 'I'm all out of drills and I'm exhausted.'

We knew we had a special guy here.

When Derrick Thomas passed from us in February of 2000, I commented to our media that a light had gone out in the city.  Today, Derrick Thomas joins the finest to have ever played the game, the game of professional football.

It's appropriate he takes his place with the two other great Kansas City linebackers who are here, Bobby Bell and Willie Lanier.

And I know that the other Chiefs Hall of Famers, some are passed, welcome Derrick also.  And I am very thankful to the Thomas family, particularly Edith Morgan, for giving me the opportunity to speak about her son.

And I'd like to have the Derrick Thomas family stand.  Thank you for your guy.

You see Derrick and I had a special connection forged by the fact that we both came to Kansas City about the same time.  And Derrick was my first draft pick when I came to the Chiefs prior to the 1989 season.  For the next decade, he was the cornerstone of the success of the Chiefs franchise.

A decade in which our team, the one in which Derrick starred on, accounted for more than 100 victories.  Derrick Thomas' career was meteoric and became a symbol for our team's success.

Certainly we had other outstanding players at that time,  Neil Smith, Christian Okoye, Deron Cherry, Marcus Allen, Joe Montana, Will Shields and Tony Gonzalez to simply talk about a few of the prominent ones.  But Derrick was there the entire decade.

I need to tell one other story about a young Bill Cowher and Marty.

Derrick, in his first year as a rookie, had 75 tackles, 10 sacks, three fumbles caused, two fumbles recovered, and was the defensive rookie of the year.

Later in the spring of 1990, Bill Cowher came to Marty and said, 'Marty, I've got a great idea. Why don't we do this on defense...Get Derrick lined up in his three point stance at his normal position, right outside linebacker.  Then on the snap of the ball, we'll drop him into coverage and bring a couple of guys on the other side.'

Marty pondered that and said, 'Bill that's an interesting concept. Just answer me one question, why would we have our best pass rusher run away from the quarterback?'

Derrick that year had 20 sacks and I think without question that's called great coaching. For me, the definition of a Pro Football Hall of Famer is that he must be a game changer, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. He must be able to create and change the course of the game, create a play or a series of plays, that swings the momentum of that game in the favor of your team.

In my personal opinion, there are only a handful of such defensive players in the modern era - Lawrence Taylor, the late Reggie White, being honored here tonight in this class a guy by the name of Bruce Smith and Rod, 71 interceptions, I may have to include you there too.  But yes, the late, great Derrick Thomas.

Early on in our friendship, Derrick confided in me that he had a number of things he wanted to accomplish in his life and as a pro football player. And I think we can say today that he accomplished almost every one.

Derrick has aspirations beyond the football field. He wanted to earn his degree from the University of Alabama.

And coming to the Chiefs, I can tell you he was a long way from that.  But in his 11 years, he spent time during the season and during the offseason, attending classes at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.  A Lamonte Winston on our staff provided the needed assistance.

And a few months after his passing, I, my wife, Lamonte and a number of Kansas City Chiefs people, traveled back to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to watch his mother, Edith Morgan, and his beloved grandmother, Annie, walk across the commencement stage at the University of Alabama to receive Derrick Thomas' graduation diploma. It was a great day for everyone.

Another primary goal for Derrick that he set for himself was to become the finest football player he can be and hopefully, with a legacy that someday might be rewarded with NFL's highest honor, the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  We can think back to the closest moments of close games how the Arrowhead stadium crowd would chant his name.

While all eyes may have been on Joe Montana or Steve young in the closing minutes of a key regular season match up between the Chiefs and 49ers in 1994, it was Thomas' three sacks that propelled the Chiefs to a 24-17 win.

That included a key safety which Derrick called in the east end zone before the snap.  He did that again two other times in his career.

All totaled, 46 different NFL quarterbacks became a victim of a Thomas sack, led by John Elway who was taken down 17 times.

Appropriately, Derrick got his 100th career sack off of John in a thrilling 24-22 win over the Broncos in 1997.  What defensive player made as many plays to preserve wins or generate points or field position for his team? When games were on the line, and the Chiefs defense was on the field, it was Derrick Thomas that his coaches, teammates and fans looked to for a stop and a chance to stop the opponents momentum.

In his 11 years with the chiefs, the Chiefs were a combined +120 turnover ratio. The second team were the New York Giants with a +67.  And Derrick Thomas was responsible for 65 of those takeaways.

In his 11 seasons with the Chiefs, the Chiefs defense ranked in the top 10 nine of those years.  And those stats were because of the catalyst Derrick Thomas.  Those stats tell part of the story. Those who have played against him tell even more.  Let me borrow some of their words.

Hall of Famer Jackie Slater maybe provided the best definition of a Hall of Famer.  "He affects the 11 guys across the line of scrimmage and the other 10 guys playing with him."  Slater said, "That was Derrick Thomas."

Hall of Famer, Jim Kelly. He talked about how the Buffalo Bills would game plan for Derrick Thomas. "I don't recall planning for another player like we did for Derrick. If you overlooked him, it was disaster."

Hall of Famer and later teammate, Marcus Allen. "I do not think I feared any player on the football field.  But I came close with Derrick Thomas. He made life miserable for offenses trying to block him."

Hall of Famer Art Shell, who both coached with and against Derrick Thomas in his career.  "A sack with a turnover. That's as devastating play as there is in a game and that was Derrick Thomas."

Hall of Famer John Elway. "Derrick wasn't just satisfied with a sack. He wanted a turnover, he wanted the fumble. He had more on his mind than killing the quarterback. He wanted the ball."

Lastly, Hall of Famer and former Chief Warren Moon. "I played with him and against him. And I can tell you playing against him was a chore.  He had to be accounted for every single snap."

A final goal of Derrick Thomas during his pro football career was to be the best philanthropist possible. He wanted to give back to the community, especially the youth of Kansas City.

When we drafted him and I met with him in my office back in the spring of 1989.  I told him this, "I need two things from you.  I need you to be a great football player for this franchise and help turn this organization into a winner.

"But I also need you here in this community. I don't want you living in Miami, living in Tuscaloosa, I want you living in Kansas City all year round.  Can you do it?"  He said he would do it and he did.  And he did it ike he does everything, with greath enthusiasm and great energy.

And Derrick always had a special feeling for our troops. The military personnel that protect and defend this country. He never turned down a request.

He never, ever turned down a request to visit the troops. Whether it while he was in Hawaii playing in one of his nine Pro Bowls or while with the Chiefs in one of our American Bowl games in Germany, Japan and Mexico. Or visiting Fort Leavenworth or Fort Reilly, KS, or Whiteman Air Force base in Missouri, Derrick was always generous with his time to meet and greet our finest, the United States Military.

We know how proud he was of his father, Robert, a B-52 pilot, whom he lost in 1972.  We also know how much he loved those flyovers and when we did that at Arrowhead, unbelievably his performance stepped up another notch.

I would share with you that I tried to get a flyover every single week but the United States Air Force wouldn't let me do it.

As much as anything Derrick did on the football field, beyond the NFL record of seven sacks in one game, and yet with all the sacks in his career and all the fumbles caused and recovered, and all the tackles, touchdowns and safeties he made, it was his contributions off the field that stamped his time here on Earth.

He was certainly not a perfect man, but I would ask whom of us is?

But he was absolutely a committed man.  Committed to helping others his list of accomplishments off the field have been widely chronicled, but among some of the most prominent are the Walter Payton award as the NFL's Man of the Year, the NFLPA's Byron Whizzer White humanitarian award, and something that no other professional football player has ever received from President George H. Bush, the 832th point of light.

Derrick's continuing legacy is the Third and Long Foundation, a reading program he established soon after coming to Kansas City and to which he devoted countless hours and finances.

Some of the students from the Third and Long are here today and I'd like for them to stand and be recognized.

I would tell you that over 1,000 children have gone through that program since it's inception. And here today are 17 of the 24 Third and Long board members and I'd like for them to stand and be recognized.

Ladies and gentleman, for a foundation to succeed and continue on nine years after the loss of its founder speak volumes about these people.  And three of them I need to recognize publicly, long time President Betty Brown, legal counsel and close friend of Derrick Thomas Kevin Regan, and Derrick's partner on and off the field, who is volunteering his time for the Third and Long in Derrick's absence, Neil Smith, please stand.

Derrick was extremely proud of the work of his foundation and perhaps he saw what a helping hand meant to him when he was a troubled youth growing up in Miami.  Indeed in 1992 Derrick saw his middle school English teacher, Mary Anne Williams, named the NFL's first teacher of the year.

At the time of Derrick's tragic death, I also stated at the memorial service that something good would come of this because a good man has left our presence. Perhaps that good is recognized in the opening of a charter school that bears his name, the only professional athlete that has been honored this way, the Derrick Thomas Academy located in downtown Kansas City.

Some of those children, faculty and administration are here in Canton also. Would you please stand and be recognized.

I know that if Derrick were here tonight, there would be a number of people he would want to thank beginning with his family and his lovely mother, Edith. And I know he would like to give an especially large thank you to the late Lamar Hunt and his lovely wife Norma is here.

He would want to thank the Hunt family, Clark and Tavia, Lamar Jr. and Rita, Sharon and David and Daniel, and he would like to thank the Chiefs family, many of whom made this trip to commemorate this occasion.  Denny and Carmen Thum, Lynn and Mary Jean Stiles, Lamonte and Clair Winston, Brenda and Bob. Mike Davidson and Allen Wright are not here but I know they're looking down as well as Chuck Cook and Terry Bradway.  Two trainers that worked with Derrick in Dave Kinde and Bud Epps.

As well as two special doctors who are very important to Derrick right to the last moments of his life, Dr. John Brown and Dr. Joe Wagerly.

To some terrific people in the PR office, Bob Moore, Peter Moris and Jimmy Carr. And to a very fine journalist and his wife, Bob and Anita Gretz.  Bob presented Derrick's nomination each year to the Hall of Fame voters.

And I would also for Derrick want to thank Lee Steinberg, Dave Dunn and Jeff Norad, his player agents.  Derrick, that one was a little difficult for me, I hope you understand.

And quite obviously, Derrick would want to thank his coaches and amazingly almost all of his coaches from the Kansas City Chiefs are here tonight.  I'll start with, and I'd like for them to stand and be recognized, Marty and Pat Schottenheimer.

Just to be sure and win the crowd over, in case you don't know it, Marty played in the AFL for the Buffalo Bills.

Kurt and Colleen Schottenheimer, Bill and Kate Cowher, Dave Adolph, Gunter and Renee Cunningham, John and Dawn Bunning, and all of his other coaches from his high school and the University of Alabama including Bill Curry, Woody Lowe and John Guy, now of the Buffalo Bills.

And to all of his teammates, plus the fellow NFL players, many of whom are here tonight, he would say to each and every one of you, thank you. And as a personal thank you, I have to say to my Lori, thank you.  She loved Derrick as much as I did and she allowed me to share our time together.

And finally, a special thank you to you, the fans of Derrick Thomas. You who have traveled here today from the community of Kansas City and from around the country, Derrick would say thank you.

Derrick Thomas loved football and he loved people and he loved life. He loved them all with a gusto and a style that was infectious. And he never did anything in a slow way, except make meetings on time.

He made everyone around him pick up the pace and yet, Derrick Thomas always had time for everyone because he had a huge heart and a smile that was as big as Derrick himself.

That smile could melt the biggest critic, the angriest coach, the most upset general manager and the fiercest opponent. Derrick Thomas was a unique and gifted player but he was also a unique and gifted human being. He was fun to be around and he made the game and life around him exciting.


A Chiefs fan at the ceremony wipes away tears as Carl's speech winds down.

Today, we say, Derrick this is your day, along with your classmates of 2009. You have earned this day because of the way you played our great game of football. You deserve this one last, wonderful honor. And all of us that knew you, celebrates this day with you and your family.

For all Derrick Thomas fans, the light has gone back on.  And it will not burn brightly in the community of Kansas City, in the middle of America, and it will also burn here very brightly in the shrine to pro football, the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. And it will burn forever.

From the fans of the Kansas City Chiefs, from his teammates, from his coaches, from the players everywhere the knew him and everyone who competed with or against him, and from all the Derrick Thomas fans, we thank the Hall for recognizing who he was.  A worthy recipient of the status as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

And yes, today does culminate the life of a great NFL player, who did so much both on and off the field for his community. A life that ended too young.

It must be said, my son, Derrick you have fought the good fight, you have finished the race, you have kept the faith.  Derrick you're in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and no one can take that from you.

Thank you and good night.

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