CANTON, Ohio | Former Chiefs cornerback Emmitt Thomas won’t go into the Pro Football Hall of Fame alone.
He’ll have his late grandfather, Earl Fyles, with him. Forever.
On Saturday night, when Thomas was inducted into the Hall of Fame, he paid the ultimate tribute to his grandfather.
Thomas asked the Hall of Fame to have the name on his bust read: “Emmitt Earl Fyles Thomas.”
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
The Hall of Fame accommodated his request.
“He’s the biggest reason I’m standing here today in football’s greatest shrine,” Thomas said in his acceptance speech on Saturday night in front of 16,654 at Fawcett Stadium.
Thomas was raised by his grandparents, Earl and Virginia Fyles, after his mother died when he was 8 years old.
Thomas didn’t have much of a relationship with his father, who died in an auto accident when Emmitt was 12, and he wondered why life dealt him such a tough break. He was resentful and angry of other intact families and, “was a young man desperately trying to find his way.”
But through the guidance of his grandparents and uncles, Thomas blossomed as a brilliant athlete, a gifted clarinet player and later a successful coach.
“I learned early on, the good Lord always has a plan,” Thomas said. “His plan for my sisters, my brother and me during those trying days of days of uncertainty was my grandparents, who became guardian angels to all of us.”
Young Emmitt sat on the porch in the summer heat of South Texas listening to baseball games, boxing matches and other sporting events with his grandfather.
“He taught me life’s greatest lessons,” Thomas said. “He taught me about honor, commitment, love, religion, hard work and respect.”
And that’s the way Emmitt Thomas played as a star baseball player in high school, as a walk-on quarterback/wide receiver/defensive back at Bishop (Texas) College; and as an undrafted rookie free agent with the Chiefs, who converted him into a cornerback.
Thomas, playing with the values instilled by his grandfather, went on to intercept a club-record 58 passes, which rank ninth all-time in league history. He intercepted five passes in the post season and helped the Chiefs to two Super Bowls, including the Super Bowl IV victory over Minnesota.
“They say I’m here because I played the game a certain way,” Thomas said. “They say I played the game with heart and determination. It has been written I played the game with a lot of poise. A countless number of fans have told me I played with a high level of integrity.
“Maybe all those compliments are true. I an assure you, every time I stepped onto the field at Municipal Stadium and Arrowhead Stadium, I did with the knowledge I was representing the Kansas City Chiefs. I knew what it meant to millions and millions Americans across the world. I did play the game with passion and with respect and a lot of heart.”
Thomas, now the assistant head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, is the eighth Hall of Famer from the Chiefs’ Super Bowl era. He joined linebackers Bobby Bell and Willie Lanier, defensive tackle Buck Buchanan, quarterback Len Dawson, kicker Jan Stenerud, coach Hank Stram and owner Lamar Hunt.
“The Chiefs in the ’60s and ’70s played the game the right way,” said Thomas’ son, Derek, who presented his father. “How many organizations can say they have an owner, coach, quarterback, kicker and (four) defensive players from the same era?”
Besides his grandfather, Emmitt Thomas credited much of his success to Hunt, Stram and former defensive coordinator Tom Bettis, who converted him to cornerback and remains a close friend and confidant.
“Hank Stram outworked, out-coached and out-schemed a lot of teams we faced in the 1960s and early 1970s,” Thomas said. “Teamwork elevated the Chiefs into one of the most balanced and dominating teams of our era.
“And the many traditions the late, great Lamar Hunt brought to the Chiefs organization the business mind he that he brought and established the AFL and making the Chiefs one of the dominant teams. Mr. Hunt was a great man and in many ways ahead of his time.”
Thomas passed on the values he learned from his grandfather to his two children, Derek and Dedra.
“My father is a special man in many ways,” said Derek Thomas, the former head basketball coach at Western Illinois and now an assistant at Detroit-Mercy. “He’s accomplished so much, and he still remains very humble. Fame never goes to his head. Every kid grows up thinking his father is the greatest. Today validates my belief.
“My dad provided my sister and myself with a lot of great advice throughout the years. He said ‘Never make athletes your heroes. They are humans and make mistakes.’
“I guess I didn’t listen to that advice very good he’s my hero, my mentor, my father ”