Inside The Bills

Alex Van Pelt’s amazing story of a night with Derrick Thomas

Posted by Chris Brown on August 6, 2009 – 9:00 am

Bills VP of Player Personnel John Guy is not the only person in the Bills organization that had a close tie to Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas.

Bills QBs coach Alex Van Pelt was his teammate for six months with the Chiefs when he was their fourth string quarterback in their 1994 training camp. Van Pelt couldn’t say enough good things about the kind of teammate Thomas was even to the guy that sat fourth on the depth chart at QB. And Van Pelt also has a special story that illustrates how Thomas would go the extra mile to make a teammate or friend happy. Here it is in Alex’s own words.

“Derrick was awesome,” said Van Pelt. “Derrick was one of those guys that cared about everybody on the team. It didn’t matter if you were the fourth quarterback, which I was. He would come out in the preseason games when it was my turn to go in and catch balls to warm me up. He was encouraging and a great teammate.

“We’re leaving River Falls, Wisconsin when we break camp and we’re flying back on the plane to Kansas City. And we had talked about country music before and he knew I was a big Hank Williams Jr. fan. So he comes up to me on the plan and he says, ‘You know I like Hank Williams Jr.? Hank is playing in Wichita tonight, do you want to go?’

“And I said, ‘Absolutely.’ And he told me he’d come by the hotel and pick me up. So we drive an hour to Wichita, and I asked him, ‘Do we have tickets?’ And he said, ‘We don’t need tickets.’ And I’m thinking, ‘Okay, he’s Derrick Thomas, I guess he won’t need a ticket.’

“So we get to the arena and he drives past the guards with no parking pass and pulls right up to the back of the arena and into the arena next to Hank’s tour bus. And the manager and Hank come down and they say, ‘Hey Derrick how are you doing?’

“Two hour later we get to go up on stage with Hank Jr. on stage in front of 14,000 and sing a few lines with him. Afterwards we come back and we’re on his bus and Hank asks, ‘Do you want to go back to Kansas City? There’s a restaurant called Carozos.’ I guess that was their ritual, Derrick and Hank. They would eat there every time he was in town. Now it’s midnight, so he asks his wife, ‘Do you want to take the limo or do you want to fly back?’ And she says she wants to fly, and I’m thinking, ‘What is going on this is crazy.’

“So a guy from Hank’s group takes Derrick’s keys and drives his car back to Carozos and we all get taken to the airstrip and there’s this private jet with all these musical notes down the side. And I’m like, this is a dream. So we fly back to Kansas City and went and had dinner at Carozos until about 4 in the morning.

“It was one of those experiences where you tell the story and people think you’re crazy and don’t believe that it happened. But that was Derrick. He knew me for about six months and just embraced me and took me in.”

“I really enjoyed my time with him there. He was a great teammate and always had that smile on his face, just lit up the room. He was unbelievable.”

When Thomas passed away Van Pelt thought so much of Thomas as a teammate that he made sure that Thomas’ kids had shoes by using part of his Nike contract as a player to outfit his kids.

Van Pelt was also invited as a personal guest to the Derrick Thomas induction party at Canton this weekend.

“I was real honored to be invited to his induction,” said Van Pelt.

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