Closure For Chiefs Nation

I was angry last year when the Hall of Fame committee put Fred Dean and Andre Tippett in Canton instead of Derrick Thomas. In my mind, and the minds of many Chiefs fans, Dean and Tippett never came close to being the type of player Thomas was. It felt like a slap in the face.

Because of that, going into this year's selection process, I had resigned myself to apathy over the outcome. Whatever happened – if Thomas got in, if he didn't, if the Hall of Fame decided to annex a wing just for Thomas – it was going to be irrelevant in my mind. The Hall had lost its luster, almost as if it was a Pro Bowl for NFL history.

But like so many offensive coordinators, in the end I just couldn't ignore Derrick Thomas.

When NFL Network's Rich Eisen announced that Thomas had survived the cut to the final 10, and then the cut to the final five, my breath caught in my throat, my heart started to pound and nothing else in the world mattered. Despite my vow to treat the announcement as if it didn't matter, my addiction to all things Chiefs took over and anxiety kicked in.

Seconds turned to hours as Stephen Perry, President of the Hall of Fame, slowly replaced Eisen at the podium and read six names. When Perry actually said "Derrick Thomas," I couldn't help but scream at the top of my lungs. It was the most significant moment in Chiefs history in a long, long time.

Once Bruce Smith turned off the waterworks, Chiefs Chairman of the Board Clark Hunt stepped to the podium and accepted the selection on behalf of the late Thomas. It was vintage Clark Hunt, taking care of business in about the classiest manner possible, as he first tipped his cap to his father's old friend, Ralph Wilson, Jr, then Bob Gretz, DT's presenter, and finally Thomas' mother, Edith Morgan.

Hunt's speech was nothing new, mostly a rehash of what kind of player Thomas was and what he accomplished. But what was striking about it was not the words, but rather the manner in which they were uttered. The sweat on Hunt's brow shined under the hot lights, his voice quivered ever so slightly. This was a big deal for Kansas City and Chiefs fans everywhere, and Hunt was feeling it like the rest of us.

There's still an induction ceremony to come, a yellow jacket to hand out, and tears to undoubtedly be shed from a myriad of fans wearing #58 jerseys in Ohio months from now. For now, though, this moment feels like the closure Chiefs Nation needed to finalize the saga of Derrick Thomas.

Thomas' death early in 2000 was so sudden and so unexpected it felt like we were all in limbo until the order to carve his bust was finally signed. It's been difficult to move on, because nothing else that has happened in the world that revolves around the Kansas City Chiefs has overshadowed the tragedy of his death. What else has there truly been to celebrate since Thomas was on the field?

The Chiefs haven't won anything significant since DT terrorized Warren Moon in the Astrodome 15 years ago in a playoff victory. Thomas' word to his teammates that day was "believe," and yet there has been little to believe in since.

But now we all have closure - in many ways. The Carl Peterson era has ended. The Chiefs will soon have a new head coach, and a new stadium will follow. Perhaps it's only fitting that the greatest Kansas City Chief since the Hank Stram era – and maybe ever, if you want to have that debate – finally received a posthumous period on the end of his football career.

And speaking of new beginnings, I'll never forget the first game I attended at Arrowhead Stadium, in 1999. As the Chiefs took on the Pittsburgh Steelers that day, Derrick Thomas racked up the last quarterback sack of his life, flying around left tackle Wayne Gandy, closing on Mike Tomczak in a microsecond and bringing Arrowhead to it's feet one final time. I stood up and cheered in section 324, happy to be there despite the December chill, happy to see Thomas do what only he could do so well.

On Saturday, January 31, 2009, I stood up and cheered for Thomas again. There's no reason to feel angry anymore. See you in Canton, Derrick.

PS – Congratulations on beating Shannon Sharpe and catching up to John Elway, one last time.

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