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Emmitt Thomas/ Dallas Morning News spin


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Rick Gosselin's story (he has a Hall vote)

Emmitt Thomas, a Hall of Fame finalist, could play CB with best

How soon we forget - Hall candidate could play with best of them

09:07 PM CST on Friday, February 1, 2008

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PHOENIX Derek Thomas must coach a college basketball game today. His Western Illinois Leathernecks take on Southern Utah in a Summit League game.

But Thomas may have a difficult time focusing on his basketball opponent. He may have a difficult time focusing on basketball, period.

That's because Derek's father, Emmitt, is a candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Class of 2008 will be discussed, debated and selected today. Both Emmitt and Derek Thomas have waited a long time for this day.

Emmitt Thomas played cornerback for the Kansas City Chiefs for 13 seasons. He led the AFL in interceptions with nine in 1969 and the NFL with 12 in 1974 the type of production that earned him trips to five Pro Bowls.

When Thomas retired following the 1978 season, he ranked fifth on the NFL's all-time interception list and third among true cornerbacks with 58. He intercepted five more passes in the postseason, including one in each game of the 1969 playoffs when the Chiefs captured their only Super Bowl.

But until the Hall of Fame seniors committee plucked him from the abyss of talented-but-forgotten players last summer, Thomas had never been a candidate for enshrinement. His 20-year window of eligibility came and went with Thomas never more than an afterthought.

"My son would always ask me, 'Dad, why aren't you in the Hall of Fame? You're better than a lot of those guys going in,' " Emmitt said.

It never bothered Emmitt, though. A quiet and private person, Thomas never asked that question of anyone else. He certainly had the forum having spent the last 27 years of his life as an NFL coach but he never questioned the selection process.

"He'd always said good things come to people who wait," Derek recalled. "He'd tell me, 'If it happens, it happens. But if it doesn't, I know what I did. You know what I did. I'm at peace with that.' "

But Derek wasn't at peace with it. He perceived the slight of his father and his accomplishments as an injustice.

"I told him I want the next generation, my kids and the nation, to know who you are and what you did," Derek said. "People my age and older know you, but the people coming up don't. That's the lost part of it."

Emmitt Thomas, who is from Angleton, Texas, and played at Bishop College in Dallas, has been victimized by the selection process a process that favors offensive players.

In the game's modern era (post-1960), there have been 164 players enshrined in the Hall of Fame 105 on offense, 58 on defense and one kicker. That's almost a 2-to-1 ratio of offensive to defensive players. That's out of whack in a league that preaches that defense wins championships.

There have been 18 wide receivers enshrined but only eight cornerbacks. Again, that's out of whack. If there are no great corners, how can there be so many great receivers? Greatness is defined by your competition. Were all those receivers running patterns against air?

The seniors committee has been around since 1972. It has nominated 29 offensive players for induction but only seven defensive players. That's also out of whack.

Thomas is the first defensive player nominated since 2001. Seven offensive players and three coaches have been presented since then. Also, Thomas is the first cornerback ever nominated by the seniors committee.

Thirty years since his retirement, Thomas still ranks fourth among true cornerbacks in interceptions. His candidacy is as sound now as it was in 1978, 1988 and 1998 except that the committee will finally recognize Thomas in 2008.

"This is all hard to believe," said Thomas, who served as Atlanta's interim head coach the final three games of the 2007 season. "This is the topping on my whole career and my life's work. ... It's a dream come true."

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