Nine years later, he could win induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Thomas, an undrafted, small-school defensive back who concluded his 13-year Kansas City Chiefs career with 58 interceptions, and Marshall Goldberg, a two-way star for the Chicago Cardinals in the 1940s, were added to the Hall of Fame ballot by the Hall's seniors committee on Thursday.
"I'm very excited (and) honored," said Thomas, who's a defensive backs coach for the Atlanta Falcons. "I thought the window of opportunity had closed for me since I had been retired so long. But I think staying in coaching and staying visible kept my name up there. I'm real happy."
The five-time Pro Bowler played at Bishop College in Dallas, a school with an enrollment of 1,400, and joined the Chiefs in 1966.
"I was a quarterback there," said Thomas, who retired after the 1978 season ranked fifth in NFL history in interceptions and had one in the Chiefs' victory over Minnesota in Super Bowl IV. "I walked on at Kansas City, and I was fortunate enough to get in the mix of a lot of great athletes. I had an excellent head coach and defensive coordinator in Hank Stram and Tom Bettis. They worked with me. They gave me time to develop. I've just been a blessed man."
Thomas and Goldberg will join 15 modern-era players on the 17-player Hall ballot. Seven players will be selected for the Class of 2008 when voting is conducted Feb. 2, a day before the Super Bowl.