Maybe there were some dry eyes in the place, but not many.
A special advance screening Sept. 18 of a film documenting the life of former Kansas City Chief Derrick Thomas, gave Thomas’s family, friends, ex-teammates and coaches who gathered at the North Club at Arrowhead Stadium a chance to remember a man whom the film described as ‘relentless and reckless’ all in the same breath.
The documentary, “Derrick Thomas: A Football Life,” was a 44-minute production put together by NFL Films detailing Thomas’s journey from inner-city Miami to college at the University of Alabama to his career as a Kansas City Chief and his commitment to young people after signing his professional contract in 1989.
Thomas, who died in 2000 at the age of 33, established the Third and Long Foundation in 1990, and as board president and Lee’s Summit resident Betty Brown said, the organization was near and dear to Thomas’s heart.
The special screening served as a fundraiser for Third and Long, a literacy tutoring program that enrolls 58 school-age children each year for help with reading, improved life skills and exposure to cultural events outside of the children’s norm.
Thomas’s jersey number during his 11-year career with the Chiefs was 58.
“I tell you, I could hardly keep the tears back,” Brown said shortly after the film, which will air nationally at 8 p.m. Sept. 24 on the NFL Network. “It was really, really nice. It was a real touching moment.”
Before the film, a reception was held that included several of Thomas’s former coaches teammates including current Third and Long Foundation chairman Neil Smith, himself a Lee’s Summit resident and Jayice Pearson, also of Lee’s Summit.
During a panel discussion prior to the film, Smith relayed personal stories on Thomas’s penchant for tardiness, describing Thomas in the film as “running late and always on time” to sack a quarterback.
“Tonight is a very special night for our foundation and for our kids,” Smith said prior to viewing the film. “This is a great start. It’s a great time to have this. It means a lot to the personal people that loved Derrick and that was in Derrick’s life and been a part of this for so long. We’re all just one family with one common goal: We want to help kids. That’s what it’s all about.”
For Pearson, the gathering 13 years after Thomas died from a pulmonary embolism caused by a blood clot in his lower extremities after he was paralyzed from the waist down after a vehicle accident on a snow and ice-filled interstate in Kansas City was much needed.
“It’s a great event, man,” Pearson said. “Not just to celebrate ‘D.T.’ but you can see all of the old faces. To see guys that we not only played with, but the security guys, the office people, the PR people; you know, just everybody from the old regime. When (former general manager Carl Peterson) and that regime left, they alienated everybody and now with events like this everybody is able to see each other. It’s a great event.”
The film ended with recounts of Thomas’s tragic accident and subsequent death and the impact it left on the Kansas City community. Led by post-screening speeches from two of Thomas’s seven children and his mother, Edith Morgan, not many in attendance left the building without shedding a tear or two about the premature loss of one of the NFL’s greatest pass rushers, who was elected to the NFL’s Hall of Fame in 2009.
“Like they said, Derrick is just one of those guys that people still love,” said Brown.