Former Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Emmitt Thomas was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Here's the text of Thomas' and presenter (and son) Derek Thomas' speeches from the Hall of Fame ceremony Saturday in Canton, Ohio.
Presenter, and son, Derek Thomas
Good evening. This is one of the proudest moments of my life standing before so many great athletes here. Where would we all be without football on Sundays? I think we as kids can remember growing up and watching these guys play on Sunday and see all the great things they did on the football field and then going out on Sunday with all your buddies and try to emulate some of the moves they made.
I'd like to say to all you guys: Thank you for the great weekends you gave to all of us. You made the weekends so enjoyable.
This is the ultimate honor that a father can give a son. While every kid grows up thinking his father is the greatest, today validates my belief. My dad's induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame means that he was not only one of the greatest to play his position but one of the elites to ever play the game, period.
In my profession, I get paid to evaluate a prospect's ability. I think that started as a little kid growing up around great people like Len Dawson, Buck Buchanan, Willie Lanier and Bobby Bell and Otis Taylor, to name a few. It's not every day that a kid can walk around and hang out with those kind of guys. To me, it was an everyday occurrence, but I didn't realize until I grew up what I was watching was greatness.
Football is a team sport. It's not an individual sport. The Chiefs of the '60s and '70s played the game the right way, and they should be remembered that way. How many organizations can say they have an owner, a head coach, a quarterback, a kicker and a plethora of guys on the defensive side of the game in the Hall of Fame from the same era?
My father's a special man in many ways. He's accomplished so much in his life, and he still remains very humble. Fame never goes to his head. He would always tell me it doesn't matter what everybody else thinks, it just matters as long as you and the family know how good I was, that's all that matters. Dad, I think it's time to let everybody know how good you really were.
Growing up in a small town in Angleton, Texas, he learned from his grandparents and his family that family was very important. Today, he would give his last dollar to a family member because he learned that family was very important and those were the things that mattered. He's the type of person that, when I'm down, I can pick up the phone and call and he can tell me everything is going to be all right.
And he also is the type of guy when he thinks I'm smelling myself will tell me to stay grounded and be quiet. One of his favorite things to say is "As long as you have a roof over your head and your family's healthy, nothing else matters."
My dad playing football was very tough and had a great work ethic. He'd never tell you how good he was. That just wasn't his style. He would play the days of the bump and run. Today, he'd be called a lock-down corner in these days of football. I think 58 career interceptions will validate that feat.
A good work ethic contributes to his great feats, and I can never remember my dad ever complaining about bumps and bruises or being hurt. I can remember many days growing up in the hot sun in Kansas City and it would be too hot to go out in the middle of the day and he'd just be coming in from running in Swope Park and playing 36 holes of golf carrying his bags all day, and I'd ask him, "Dad, why are you doing this?" He'd just answer, "It's my job, I gotta be in shape and I gotta get it done. That's what it's all about."
Being tough, being humble and a good work ethic have paved the way to my dad to a great career, including four Super Bowl appearances. And being the first black head coach in Atlanta Falcons history.
My dad provided my sister and myself with a lot of great advice throughout the years. Like most kids, we don't always follow that advice. A piece of advice he gave me once was never make athletes your heroes. They are humans and they make mistakes also. Ladies and gentlemen, I guess I didn't listen to that advice very good. So at this time, I'd like to introduce to you my hero, my mentor, my father, Emmitt Thomas.
Thank you, Derek, for that wonderful tribute. I feel blessed and honored to stand before you today. I give God all the honor and praise for letting an undrafted free agent country boy from little Angleton, Texas, enter the hallowed ground of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
And before I begin, to the people of Canton, thank you for the hospitality and the kindness that you have shown me and my family. It has been overwhelming. Since learning that I have become a member of the most prestigious club of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, my emotions are overwhelmed. As I look behind me at these fine athletes, I am truly humbled.
They say I'm here because I played the game a certain way. They say I played the game with heart and determination. It has been written that I played the game with a lot of poise. Countless number of fans have told me I played the game with a high level of integrity.
To my Hall of Fame class, I'd like to say congratulations.
Two of these young men are very special to me. As you know, I had the pleasure of coaching Art and Darrell in my days with the Redskins.
I broke in with the Redskins in '86, and I worked with the receivers under Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs.
And in '87, for the next eight years, I worked with Darrell on the defensive side. Both of these men overcame my coaching and have had successful careers, and I'd like to say great job, guys. Congratulations again.
Maybe all these fine compliments are true, but one thing I can assure you, that every time I stepped on the field at Municipal Stadium and later at Arrowhead Stadium I did it with the knowledge that I was representing the Kansas City Chiefs and I knew what it meant to millions and millions of Americans across the world.
I did play the game with passion. I did play the game with respect. And I played it with a lot of heart.
But perhaps the most important reason I'm here, I played the game with a lot of respect, honor that the game so very much deserved, from everyone who has ever had the privilege of strapping on a shoulder pad or buckling up a chin strap. It's simple, ladies and gentlemen. I respected it and I still respect the American values that our great game stands for.
Values like hard work that allowed my head coach in Kansas City, the late great Hank Stram, to outcoach and outscheme a lot of teams we faced in the '60s and early '70s.
Values like teamwork which elevated the Chiefs to be one of the most balanced and dominating teams of our era. And, finally, traditions like millions of traditions like the great Lamar Hunt brought to the Chiefs organization. The business mind that he brought and established the AFL and making the Chiefs one of the dominant organizations in all of pro football.
Mr. Hunt was a great man and in many ways was ahead of his time. I thank him and the Hunt family for all that they have done for me in my special days with the Chiefs organization. I'd also like to thank Mr. Wayne Willard, who came to Bishop College along with Lamar Hunt to give me a contract as a free agent. A special thanks to Tom Bettis, my defensive coordinator and secondary coach. Coach Bettis is here with me today. He took a special interest in me as soon as I arrived in Williamsville College, and from this day on, he's been a mentor and a confidante in my life. Thanks, Coach Bettis, I love you.
My personal road to Canton is very simple. I love playing football. I never wanted to cheat the fans, my organization, my teammates or my coaches by not giving my best at all times. It wasn't a complex program, it was instead brought down to desire, preparation and effort, how I played the game, and that's now how I teach it. Respect for the opponent, respect for my coaches and teammates and respect for what it took not to just be average but to be the best football player I could be. I owe it to the fans. I owe it to Mr. Hunt, and, finally, I owe it to myself.
Every member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame has a special story how his career began. Some began in a dramatic fashion. Others spawned from a very humble beginning. Much like the story I'm about to tell you. I lost my mother when I was 8 years old. I could tell you that the situation shaped and molded and had a significant influence on a young man who was desperately trying to find his way.
I learned early on that the good Lord always has a plan. His plan for my sisters, my brother and for me during those trying days was uncertain as my grandparents who became the Teflon protector and guardian angels to all of us. My late grandfather, Lewis Fyles Sr., is still my hero. I remember those long hot summer nights sitting on the porch listening to baseball games and prize fights and other sporting events. It was during these times that he taught me life's greatest lesson. He taught me about honor, commitment, love, religion, hard work and respect.
Growing up, I was resentful and angry at other families around us because they seemed fully intact. I'd often lay awake at night wondering why our family had to be different. But come to stark realization that the good Lord wanted us to be reared and raised under the guiding hands of my grandfather, who in his own right was a giant of a man.
He's the big reason I'm standing here today at this summit of pro football's biggest shrine, and as a tribute to him, I asked the Pro Football Hall of Fame to let me enter the hallowed halls of Canton as Emmitt Earl Fyles Thomas.
They were kind enough to accommodate my request. Thank you, Pro Football Hall of Fame. As every member of the Hall of Fame can attest, no one gets here without a lot of help and support. I've learned some valuable lessons in my life. And one of them is in every relationship that you have, there are opportunities to learn and get better from and grow.
I've learned from my high school coach, Mr. Willie Foals from Angleton, Texas, that there was more life outside of Angleton, Texas. I learned from the guys I played with at Marshall High School in Angleton, Texas, and Bishop College in Dallas, Texas, and the Kansas City Chiefs that no matter how tough the going got that quitting was never an option.
Willie Lee Lewis and the late John Lark, two legends at Bishop College, taught and reinforced those values in me, and they're very much alive in me today. From Coach Walker to Dr. Al Molley from Central Missouri State, I learned the fine points of coaching and teaching. I thank you for giving me a chance. Special thanks to Mr. Rich Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News, the Hall of Fame selection committee and Ms. Tammy Owens from the Hall of Fame for all of your hard work, diligence and kindness.
The list of NFL coaches who afforded me the opportunity to continue to grow in the league include Jim Hanifan, Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs, Richard Petitbon, Norv Turner, Ray Rhodes, Dennis Green, Dan Reeves, Jim Mora, Mike Smith, John Gruden, Wade Phillips -- thank you, guys. And a special thanks to Mr. Arthur Blank, owner and CEO of the Atlanta Falcons and to my entire Falcons family, thank you all. Every one of you are special to me.
I'd like to thank several NFL assistant coaches that I've had a pleasure of working with, like Joe Vitt, Mike Trago, Chuck Knox Jr., Sean Payton, Richard Solomon, Joe DeCamillis, Bill Johnson, Brett Maxie, Dennis Allen, Charlie Baggett, Ed Donatell, Ollie Wilson, Lionel Washington, Rennie Simmons, and of course my roommate, Chuck Banker.
Our game is driven by our standard of players and, man, have I been associated with some of the all-time greats. Roy Green, O.J. Ellison, Pat Tilley, Darrell Green, Art Monk. Ricky Sanders, Gary Clark, Dexter Manley, Russ Grimm, Doug Williams, Mark Rypien, Brian Dawkins, Mike Sotis, Troy Vincent and, of course, DeAngelo Hall. A special thanks to Bobby Beathard, Mr. Al Davis of the Oakland Raiders, and all the sports staff, trainers, equipment, video, PR and CR people I've had the honor of working with during my career.
To my daughter, Dedra, my son, Derek, I want to thank you publicly to say to both of you I love you and I'm so very proud of you to be your father. Not only for the people that you've grown into but the eight bouncing grandbabies that you have given our family, Kedra, Kena, Kiera, Kiondria, Bailey, Jay, Samantha and the King Jay, I love you guys. You guys truly are a ray of light, hope and an inspiration to me. I'd also like to thank Gloria Diane, the mother of my precious children and thanks to my former mother-in-law, Mary Ruth Campbell, for all of your support.
And a special thanks to my daughter-in-law Julie Royer-Thomas. To my sister-in-laws, Cathie and Sandy, thank you for your unconditional love and support. Special thanks to Nancy and Tony Christnovich. You both have been a pillar of strength in my life's journey. And to my deceased mother-in-law, Lorraine Heafley, I love you and thank you very much. A special thanks to my uncle, A.D. Fyles, who gave me every opportunity to have a good life with the support and wisdom and guidance to become the man I am today.
I'd like to give a special thanks to my momma Carrie Thomas, Dowd Thomas, Ruth Brown, Lewis Fyles Jr., Earl Harris and Jennie Engleton. And special thanks to my sisters, Barbara Thomas and Virginia Turner, and my brother, Freddie Thomas, for your love and your encouragement. You have always been there for me. To my beautiful wife, Jacqui, I thank you for your love, your patience, your support and what has been a long journey for all of us. Through the hirings and firings and all the thousands of boxes, packing tape and scissors you've gone through as a wife of an NFL player and current NFL assistant for six different teams, I thank you for all your sacrifice. You're a beacon of shining light to all who know you, and it's an honor to have you by my side.
I know it wasn't easy as you made it look. I thank you for standing strong, encouraging me and standing with me, and sometimes it looked like this day would never come.
You maintained your faith and kept telling me we'll get that call from the Hall of Fame one day, and you were right. I am honored to be sharing this day with you, baby. I love you.
And, finally, to all the mothers and fathers out there who are raising children, I offer you this: You're looking at a man that has a lot of blemishes, abrasions and scars dealt to him by life's highs and lows, but you're also looking at a man who stood tall in the arena, never quit even though it looked like the game was over many, many occasions.
And the last 43 years of my life involved with the NFL have taught me through faith, hard work, determination, willingness to get somewhere to a better life, although I should have a chance to rise from the most modest circumstances and become a Hall of Famer just like this old undrafted free agent country boy from Angleton, Texas.
As I go to my seat, I'd like to leave you with these final thoughts. Our talent is God's gift to us. How we use that talent is our gift to him. My sincere hope and prayer that God finds my gift back to him a worthy one. May God bless you, keep you and continue the good fight of faith.