It was hard to pick the finalists for the Derrick Thomas Award. It was easy to pick the winner.
But more on that later.
Our award for the best linebacker of the season is named for the late Chiefs standout, who was added to the Pro Football Hall of Fame to launch the 2009 season. (They eventually had to flash the lights on Carl Peterson so that the 2010 ceremony could begin.)
No linebacker had a greater impact during the decade that Thomas spent harassing quarterbacks. His exploits included an uncanny seven sacks in one game, causing Dave Krieg to still pee a little whenever he sees the number 58.
After 11 NFL seasons, Thomas suffered serious injuries in a January 23, 2000 automobile accident. Paralyzed from the waist down, a blood clot ended his life
not long thereafter.
He helped the Chiefs get to the playoffs ten times, and he was named the league’s Man of the Year in 1993. In eight straight seasons, he participated in the Pro Bowl.
This year, the no-brainer recipient is Packers linebacker Clay Matthews. Nearly voted the defensive player of the year, Matthews’ postseason performance, including forcing along with Ryan Pickett a key fourth-quarter fumble in the Super Bowl, makes him the far away top choice for the award. Indeed, Matthews secured more than 56 percent of the vote in a poll that had six options, including Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, Steelers linebacker James Harrison, Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware, Dolphins linebacker Cameron Wake, and Vikings linebacker E.J. Henderson.
Though we’ve yet to commission a plaque or a trophy or a WWE-style belt, Matthews can add to his list of accolades the satisfaction of knowing that an ever-growing Internet outpost of football info regards him as the best linebacker in the sport.