One on One: Carl Peterson- Part 3 of 5

WPI: Let's talk about your first draft. Derrick Thomas was like a son to you. General Managers and players don't have that kind of relationship. It is taboo in the industry whether it is football, baseball, basketball or hockey – it is not like that. What did it mean to your football team and what was it like to lose someone you were that close to?

Peterson: "When I hired Marty, the Chiefs were coming off of a 4-11-1 season. I told him, ‘we are going to be picking fourth, and you and I know that if we are going to be picking this high again, we both are going to be fired unless we found some way to trade up,' and he agreed. The second part of that is, obviously, Marty is a defensive coach, and my job has always been to try to get my head coach what he needs to win in player personnel, facilities, environment, everything."

"So, we knew we wanted a defensive guy and I give Whitey Duvall all the credit. God bless his soul, what a wonderful person he was, and I kept him on until he died of cancer. They had taken Neil Smith the year before and there were a lot of questions. He didn't do well, and he got hurt, but we really felt that if we could get another guy on the other side and Neil played up to his ability, we could really start to build a defense and that was the focus."

"So, believe me, Marty and Bill Cowher and I went and worked out every player. Derrick Thomas didn't work out in Indianapolis, which just infuriates me when these guys don't participate. The entire National Football League is there and your agent tells you no, you're going to have one workout at Alabama and that's it. So, we go down to Tuscaloosa and we meet Bill Curry, and Marty knew him very well. They had played together at the College All-Star Game. And, Bill just says, ‘you won't be able to tire him out.' I said, ‘what do you mean we won't be able to tire him out?' He said, ‘the guy has an unbelievable constitution. He just doesn't get tired.'It was a hot day in the spring and we are out on the Astroturf. So, he has about three or four teammates with him and we start putting him through drills, and have Billy Cowher doing them and Marty and I are watching."

"So, he goes through every linebacker drill he knows, and pretty soon the other guys are falling away. So he takes him through every defensive back drill he can. After every drill, Derrick would get up and he would give that great smile and would say, ‘What else do you want to see?' And I mean, he was hardly breathing. So now, Bill comes over to me and he says, ‘Carl and Marty, I am exhausted. I have given him every drill I can. The guy is a great athlete – we can see that.' I said, ‘of course we can see that, but I am still frosted about Indianapolis. Give him a couple more.' So he did. So, finally Derrick came over smiling and he says, ‘you don't like me do you?' I said, ‘No, it is not that I don't like you. You should have worked out in Indianapolis – it would have been a lot easier than here.' He smiled and said, ‘I got the message."

"So, now we get to the draft, and it was a heck of a draft. Aikman goes first. Barry Sanders goes second, and now we are sweating because we are looking at Deion Sanders, Woodson and Andre Rison. But the guy we want, obviously, is Derrick. I went to the Auburn – Alabama game in Birmingham and he had about three sacks. He blocks consecutive field goal tries. I mean, the guy was just unbelievable. And, Marty felt the same way. We had looked at all the video on him. So, we're sweating it and Green Bay comes out with Mandarich, the offensive lineman. We jumped up and down! Tony Mandarich? And we had worked all those guys out. We didn't work out Aikman. We worked out Sanders, we had worked out Mandarich, Broderick and Thomas. So that was an easy decision. Do it."

"And of course, we get to the contract, and he has a car dealer who is doing his contract. Oh, God. So, you know, I've got to teach this guy both sides of the table…how to negotiate. Anyway, we finally got it done. As I recollect, he was about a week late into camp, but he did not miss any preseason games. He got in and then of course he brought all of his family with him for the signing."

"But, you could see, we were going to have a lot of people hanging on here. So, early on, I said, ‘now look, you are my first number one draft choice for the Chiefs and we are always going to be connected. Good or bad. Hopefully it is good. But if you have a problem – you come and see me. Anything but football. You want to talk football, we can march down the hall to see Marty.' "

"So, he took me literally and he started coming in and he was the first guy to sign five gratis appearances for charity or community. He was very quick to sign it. He grew up in Alabama, but he said, ‘I am going to make Kansas City my home.' And he did. He wanted to start a foundation. He started this "Third and Long" thing, and it was a mess. They were going to have a golf tournament and so forth, everything is wrong. I have city CEOs calling me and saying, ‘hey, we love Derrick, but the people running that thing? It's in shambles."

"So I had to bring him in and I said, ‘Derrick, I know you have your friends running this but they are not doing you any favors. Your name is tied to it and it will always be that way.' He said, ‘Well, you have to come on the Third and Long Board. I said, ‘I am not coming on until you get this thing straightened out.' But each year, we got closer and closer and then, frankly, we would meet almost weekly and, like I said, talk about anything. We can talk about football, but if you are unhappy with the coaching you go down the hall. Anyway, from that, this relationship just grew and grew and, you know, I never had a son. I have one daughter, and he never had a father that he knew. He lost him in Vietnam."

"Passion, though, God – what a heart. He was a special person as well as a great football player. He would come and he would call me father after a while. ‘Father, I made a mistake.' I would, say ‘It's alright. Let's sit down and go through it.' Anyway, it was a great relationship, and I'm glad I had it, apart from the ending being so difficult for all of us. It was like losing a son, and you know, I have thought about that. You've got to be careful how close you get and there has to be a professional relationship, but I will say this about Derrick: he never abused that. He really did, I think, care for me and I think he knew how much I cared for him."

WPI: There were two dates in the early 90's that I think changed this football team. The first being October 7, 1991 against the Buffalo Bills on Monday night. I was in the stands and I had never heard the stadium so loud. What was that night like for you?

Carl Peterson: "Well, it was electric and you're right, the Chiefs had not been on Monday night football for years and years and years, and frankly, probably didn't deserve to be on Monday Night Football. And now we had a good team, and now we're playing the defending AFC Champions who had been in the Super Bowl the year before and I think they were undefeated coming in here and Jim Kelly, and you know, it was going to be a heck of a game.

You certainly could see our football team building through the week. I mean, they were juiced, and practices were fast and hard and intense. I come in usually four hours before kick off, but this time, WOW. I usually try to get out and walk around the parking lots before and it is usually two hours before the game because I want to be on the field an hour before for the warm-ups, but I had never experienced anything like that. I mean, it was electric. It made the hair on the back of your neck stand up, and I'll tell you when we came in here and that kickoff – Holy Mackerel. That was special. The people were just...it was...deafening doesn't even describe it.

We have had some marvelous great games, loud and so forth since, but I would agree with you. We just crossed over to another level. I have talked to Jim Kelly many times and he's said, ‘Whoa, man.' We knew, they knew, they didn't have a chance. They had none. I mean none. It was over with. And our defense was playing just this suffocating great defense, it was just great. And the other thing I know, it made an impression on the Monday Night Football crew and the announcers that will never be forgotten. It was special. I definitely would agree it was a milestone."

Tomorrow: Part 4

This article originally appeared in Warpaint Illustrated the Magazine. If you want more information about the only Magazine Dedicated to the Kansas City Chiefs, hit the banner below to learn how you can get 56 issues of Sports Illustrated when you order Warpaint Illustrated the magazine.

 

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