Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bittersweet Update:

Yeah, it's football season again.

God, I love football season. It's not just the games, but the whole football thing. I know rubgy players are tougher and college players "aren't just in it for the money" and those awful professional players are all a bunch of druggie, criminal degenerates. Whatever.

I don't care. Give me the NFL. I love it.

I especially love stories like this.

"Derrick Thomas was the hub of Kansas City for a long time. He played in the days when every football ticket at Arrowhead Stadium was sold before the season even began. Those were the days when Fridays throughout the city were red and when every conversation in every office building and factory and car dealership and shopping center revolved around a football game on Sunday. Those were the days when the parking lot at Arrowhead was one giant barbecue pit, and you could smell ribs and chicken cooking as far as Topeka."

As usual, the Poz puts it just right. The years that Derrick Thomas played were some of the most exciting and "This year, we're going all the way!" of the entire Chiefs regime. Part of that was because we just had good teams and good breaks and good management.

But a bigger part was that we had Derrick Thomas. He was a playmaker. A game-changer. He was the kind of man who, upon stepping onto the field and raising his arms, could get an entire stadium of 78,000 people to stand and scream for three hours straight without staging a single endzone stunt or faux suicide fiasco.

I'm not talking about him as a person, because I didn't know him as a person. I knew him as a football player, and he truly was one of the best -- not just because of his statistics but because of his presence.

You know, my ex and I were in Hawaii for the ProBowl the weekend he died. Because we were in Chiefs red (aaaaalllll weekend long) and from Missouri, we were sort of the official "Have you heard anything new on DT?" consultants for that weekend. We weren't surprised by the multitude of questions or the multitude of other teams' fans that asked them.

And why? Because everyone knew Derrick Thomas. Other teams feared but respected him. Other teams' fans were the same. And when a player like that is hurt, everyone wants to know if he's going to get better.

Sadly, we didn't find out he'd passed until we got home. I was still wearing my DT jersey at the time, and I kept getting funny looks in the airport while Dad picked us up. Couldn't figure out why until Dad gave us the news as we cleared the KC limits on the way back home.

And our defense has never been the same. Hell, the whole team hasn't been the same.

I guess, in the long run, it doesn't matter. With the more vocal and unruly players sucking up the news coverage these days (I won't mention them by name and give them any more publicity than they already have, but you know who I mean), the death and (many years) subsequent induction into the Hall of Fame of one guy who died too young probably isn't that big a deal.

But it is to me. Because I still have that #58 jersey, and I still wear it every game day from August to February.

Rest well, DT, and know that you are remembered. And that the game just isn't the same without you.


At 7:49 PM, Blogger Joely Sue Burkhart said...

I remember reading some of the fan memorials after he passed away and BAWLING my ever loving eyes out. One guy wrote something about DT running in heaven again (those who don't know, DT had been paralyzed after a car accident). He will always be THE Chief for me.

At 8:10 PM, Blogger GutterBall said...

You know, people kept bashing his memory about his personal life, how irresponsible a person he was, yada yada yada. It kinda makes me sick at my stomach.

Like I said: I didn't know him as a person. His personal life means nothing to me beyond how much money he chose to donate and how many charities he started with that money he was so irresponsible with.

As far as I'm concerned, he's a much better person than some of the big-namers still playing the game today with criminal records and drunk driving deaths on their consciences. He may well have slept around and partied, but he was only 33 years old.

Given another 5 years, who knows what he'd have done? Cleaned up? Got worse? No one knows, and that's kind of the point. Honor him for what he was -- one of the hands-down best players ever to play the game -- and not what he could have been.


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