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Hall recall: Thomas went from undrafted WR to Hall of Fame CB

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By Gil Brandt | NFL.com

When you talk to Raiders owner Al Davis about cornerbacks, the first name he brings up is Emmitt Thomas. That's pretty impressive when you consider that a) Davis is a true football lifer who recognizes great talent; B ) the Raiders have had some pretty outstanding cornerbacks of their own through the years; and c) for Davis to lavish such praise on a member of the arch-rival Kansas City Chiefs, you know there's something to it.

Those are the reasons why Davis' praise is so impressive. These are the reasons why Thomas is so worthy of the praise: He had the size, speed and instincts to thrive at cornerback.

Thomas was a wide receiver at tiny Bishop College in Dallas, and he was never drafted -- by the NFL or the AFL. The AFL's Chiefs signed Thomas as an undrafted free agent in 1966 -- and it was then that Hall of Fame coach Hank Stram decided to switch Thomas to corner. Now, many times a player is moved from receiver to defensive back because he has suspect hands. That was absolutely not the case with Thomas.

He had fantastic hands. People like Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson will tell you all about Thomas' ability to catch the ball. I don't think he ever dropped an interception when the ball was within his reach. He finished a 13-year career with 58 interceptions, which ranks ninth on the all-time list -- and fourth among pure cornerbacks.

When the Raiders tormented opposing teams in the late '60s and early '70s with those quick slant passes, they simply could not beat Thomas, who thrived in big games. He had three interceptions in the 1969 playoffs -- including two against the Raiders in the AFL title game. He then added another pick in Kansas City's 23-7 win over Minnesota in Super Bowl IV.

Thomas' induction adds to the great legacy of that Chiefs Super Bowl squad. In addition to Stram and Kansas City owner Lamar Hunt, that Chiefs team now boasts six players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Dawson, Bobby Bell, Buck Buchanan, Willie Lanier, Jan Stenerud and now Thomas.

As much as people will talk about Thomas' ability as a player, they will also talk about what a nice person he is. Thomas has so many friends in the business, which is one reason why he has been able to follow his playing career with a long and distinguished coaching career. After coaching two seasons at Central Missouri, he joined the pro ranks -- he has been an NFL coach for 27 consecutive years, with six different teams. He has been a defensive coordinator and an interim head coach.

His son, Derek, who will present him at the enshrinement ceremony, has picked up the coaching gene from his dad. Derek was recently named the assistant basketball coach at the University of Detroit.

Of course, fans in Canton this week don't have to go far to find evidence of Thomas' coaching legacy. During his nine seasons as an assistant with the Redskins, he served as a receivers coach for Art Monk and a defensive backs coach for Darrell Green.


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