Fans Honor Memory of Derrick Thomas
Feb. 14, 2000
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Fans wearing Kansas City Chiefs jackets and dabbing at moist eyes filed silently past the body of former Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas today.
The nine-time Pro Bowl linebacker lay in an open casket in the east end zone of Arrowhead Stadium, the site of many of his memorable plays. The stadium's giant screens played highlights of his career.
Several hundred people were waiting outside the stadium gate when the public viewing of the 33-year-old star began at 9:30 a.m. Within 30 minutes, mourners had slowed to a steady trickle.
A B-2 stealth bomber flew low over the stadium, where Chiefs' officials and staff _ from owner Lamar Hunt to office secretaries _ had gathered. Thomas' father was an Air Force captain who died in Vietnam.
The Chiefs announced they would not discuss signings of players this week in memory of Thomas.
After the public viewing, a private viewing for family members, teammates and the Chiefs' staff was planned.
Thomas was driving a car during a snowstorm on Jan. 23 as he and two friends headed to the Kansas City airport to fly to St. Louis for the NFC Championship game. He lost control of the car, and it overturned at least three times, police said.
Thomas and passenger Michael Tellis, 49, who were not wearing seat belts, were thrown from the car. Tellis was killed and Thomas' spine and neck were broken. A third person in the car, who was wearing a seat belt, had only minor injuries.
Thomas was brought to a hospital in Miami, his hometown, where he remained paralyzed from the chest down after having surgery to repair his spinal column. Doctors had hoped he would walk again.
His disabling injury and subsequent death stunned Kansas City, bringing an outpouring of emotion from both football fans and the general public.
More than $25,000 had been raised in Thomas' memory for his Third and Long Foundation, which promotes literacy among young people.
On Sunday, about 75 people affiliated with the foundation gathered at a branch of the Kansas City Public Library to pay tribute to Thomas.
``Nobody graduates from Third and Long. It just remains part of you,'' said the program's coordinator, Donna Woolard.
What Thomas started as a club active only during the football season turned into a year-round program, with participants meeting at the library on Saturdays. Thomas would bring NFL stars and other celebrities to meet the young people.
``We're not here because Derrick Thomas died,'' the Rev. Saundra McFadden-Weaver said. ``We're here because he lived. No child will go illiterate if everybody in here goes out and does what Derrick Thomas wants them to do.''