Emmitt Thomas
(Game Worn)

The great Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Emmitt Thomas can be considered one of the most illustrious graduates of both Abraham Barrington Marshall High School in his home town of Angleton, Texas and Bishop College. Obviously through no fault of Thomas, both institutions closed after he had brought honor to their athletic programs, Marshall to the integration of the Angleton school district and Bishop College to financial difficulty and declining enrollment. The Chiefs of course still stand tall and Thomas stands among the tallest of all Chiefs who wore the uniform of this storied American Football League and NFL franchise. Known more for his offensive acumen in high school and college, Thomas came to the Chiefs in 1966 primarily on the recommendation of super scout Lloyd “Judge” Wells who was so influential in helping to stock the Chiefs with African American players from the Historically Black Colleges of the South and Southwest. Thomas however, wasn’t necessarily seeking a professional football career, much less one draped with honor, with baseball as his first love. He stated that “I played baseball, football and ran track at Bishop College. Unfortunately, they didn’t have a great baseball program so I switched over to football and dedicated most of my time to that.”



Thomas was a bit hamstrung adapting to the professional game his first season, undergoing the transition many rookies make and both he and fellow corner back Fletcher Smith were the only rookies to make the Chiefs 1966 active roster. “Most of us coming from predominantly Black schools didn’t play a lot of combination coverages. We played what’s called Cat Defense. ‘You go cover that cat, I’ll cover this cat,’ that’s how we played. We played against some outstanding athletes…that really helped us cover so effectively as pros.” Another of the Chiefs defensive backs, James Marsalis, coming to Kansas City a few years later in 1969 as the AFL Defensive Rookie Of The Year from Tennessee State, played the same style of football as Thomas. Both Emmitt and Marsalis utilized that coverage experience to become the major proponents of what was called the Bump And Run manner of coverage.



Thomas was an immediate standout on special teams. He averaged over twenty-three yards per kickoff return his rookie season, the only time he performed this duty for the Chiefs, and was a fearless tackler going downfield. It took him a while to break into the starting line-up and by-pass starter Willie Mitchell but he snared four interceptions in his second season and his professional career took off from there.  The very physical man-to-man skills utilized by Thomas resulted in an extraordinary career, one that spanned thirteen seasons and earned him a boatload of accolades. He was named to a total of five AFL All Star or NFL Pro Bowl squads, was a First or Second Team All Pro on four occasions, and has managed entry to both the Chiefs and Pro Football Halls Of Fame. He played at a consistent level of excellence, picking off nine passes in the Chiefs Super Bowl winning season of ’69 and leading the NFL with twelve INT’s in 1974 during his ninth season. He completed his career in 1978 looking back as the franchise all time interception leader with fifty-eight picks and a retired jersey number.




Although he made an indelible mark in football as a player, Emmitt Thomas continued to work in the sport that used to hold second-place status to baseball, spending two seasons as an assistant coach at Central Missouri State, and then returning to the NFL as an assistant who eventually rose to the Defensive Coordinator position for the Packers, Vikings, and Falcons. He remains as the Chiefs defensive backfield coach, a spot he’s held since 2010. This great player and exceptional man that has held the respect of teammates and all of those he has coached, can be easily recalled by looking at his 1971 Kansas City Chiefs helmet. Thomas’ Riddell TK shell is equipped with the ubiquitous standard Riddell gray two bar mask with the “personal touch” so often given to the protective wear the Chiefs donned by  equipment manager Bobby Yarborough. Inspection of Emmitt’s mask makes obvious the handwritten number 18 on the right side of the facemask. Another Yarborough customization was Emmitt’s double-snubber utilizing Gladiator parts for this specific item rather than the usual Riddell snubbers. He often used shoulder pad rivets in the Chiefs helmets for repair or replacement and just as often these were painted over as is obvious on this piece of football history. The shell carries a nicely aged yet well preserved Chiefs decal and Yarborough noted the yearly code on the shell’s interior.



This beautifully preserved piece of Chiefs history is reflective of one of the team’s greatest players, one who perhaps remains underrated and underappreciated by too many fans despite being a member of the Pro Football Hall Of Fame.