LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) — Derrick Thomas, one of the NFL's most dominant defensive players of the 1990s, was hospitalized with serious injuries from a one-car accident that killed a close friend.
While declining to comment on broadcast reports that the nine-time Pro Bowl linebacker had a broken back or neck, Kansas City Chiefs officials d confirmed his injuries were severe.
A source close to the family, who asked not to be identified, told The Kansas City Star that Thomas was conscious but had no feeling in his legs at the accident scene.
Thomas apparently still had no feeling in his legs at the hospital emergency room, the Star reported.
More information was expected to be made public today after Thomas' mother arrived from her home in Miami, Fla. WDAF-TV reported Thomas was to be moved to a Miami hospital today.
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"He has been seriously injured. The extent of those injuries are still being determined," Chiefs president Carl Peterson said.
"He is alert, comfortable, stable and will remain in the hospital in Liberty overnight. We ask Kansas City fans and fans everywhere for their prayers for Derrick," Peterson said.
"It's devastating to me," Chiefs coach Gunther Cunningham said Sunday night. "Forget about the football aspect of it. He has given a lot to this city and this organization. It's a tough thing to deal with."
Sources said Thomas, 33, and two companions were en route to Kansas City International Airport to fly to St. Louis for Sunday's NFC Championship game when their car flipped on the icy road about 1:30 p.m. CST. Thomas and the man who was killed were both thrown from the vehicle. The third man was treated at a hospital and released.
The dead man was identified as Michael Tellis, 49, of Kansas City, Kan., the Missouri State Highway Patrol said. Tellis, a close friend of Thomas, helped him set up projects such as a charity golf tournament which had become an annual event in Kansas City.
An icy snow that began falling around noon was also blamed for a huge pileup on Interstate 29 near the site of Thomas' accident in which 10 people were killed.
"God willing, all the initial reports will be off and he'll be OK," Chiefs center Tim Grunhard said. "Right now, I'm not concerned with Derrick Thomas the football player, I'm worried about Derrick Thomas the person."
An All-American at Alabama, Thomas became an immediate star as a pass-rushing specialist after being taken in the first round of the 1989 draft. He was an All-Pro in his first nine seasons, and in 1990 set the NFL single-game record with seven sacks against Seattle.
That game was the same week as Veterans Day and Thomas dedicated his performance to his father, an Air Force pilot killed in Vietnam.
Coaches designed the Chiefs' entire defense around the quick-hitting, 6-foot-3, 255-pounder, who was a mainstay in a consistently tough defense that helped Kansas City become one of just three NFL teams to win 100 games in the '90s.
Thomas made headlines in 1998 when he lost his temper during a Monday night game against Denver and committed three personal foul penalties in the Broncos' final touchdown drive. He was fined and suspended for one game and issued an apology to the Broncos and to his fans.
With one of the quickest first moves of any defender in the league, Thomas became known for his "sack and strip" move, where he closed fast on a quarterback's blind side and hacked at his arm to knock the ball out of his hand.
Cunningham, the Chiefs' defensive coordinator from 1995-98, has said Thomas was primarily responsible for the team leading the league with a plus-130 turnover ratio in the 1990s.
"I take my hat off to No. 58. He is the most underrated football player right now on our football team," Cunningham said in December. ‘For one reason or another, everybody looks at Derrick Thomas and says, ‘Well, he didn't show up in the playoff game.'
"If Derrick is not out there at right end, the Chiefs would not have been as successful as they've been for the last 11 years. Derrick was the starting point to getting there."