I was saddened to hear of the death of former Minnesota Vikings safety Orlando Thomas, who passed away Sunday evening due to complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (aka Lou Gehrig's disease). He was only 42-years old.
Thomas played his entire seven year NFL career with my favorite NFL squad. When then Vikings' coach Dennis Green was fired with one game remaining in the 2001 season, I recall Thomas taking the news harder than any of his teammates. As fate would have it, Thomas would not play another game after the '01 season. By that point he had been so beset with injuries that his play on the field had severely diminished.
I recall the Vikes' second-to-last game of the 2001 season. It took place in Lambeau Field, and there was a play in particular where the Green Bay Packers ran an end around. On the play, QB Brett Favre ran ahead of the ball carrier in an effort to put a block on the defender. Thomas happened to be the defender in his way. As Favre went low to make the block, Thomas literally collapsed to the ground before being hit. It was almost as if the hard-nosed safety wanted no part of any contact. Later in that game, I made the comment that Thomas appeared to be trying to make tackles without actually making contact. Such had become the state of the Vikings' defense (the unit was virtually ignored in the late '90s, early 2000s in favor of stockpiling an explosive offense) in that they were trotting out a player with a surgically repaired knee and two bum shoulders. I can't imagine a more depressing scenario for a pro football player when the mind and heart are willing but the body is woefully incapable. Sadly, that description can also be applied to ALS.
Green and Thomas remained close after both left Minnesota. In fact. Green offered Thomas a job as an assistant coach when he was hired as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals in 2004. Sadly, it was shortly thereafter that Thomas started exhibiting symptoms of ALS and was officially diagnosed with the disease in 2007. Thomas's condition became so dire that in 2009 there was a report erroneously announcing his death.
From everything I've heard from those close to O.T., he never lost that indomitable spirit and kept fighting until the end.
But still, 42-years old? Too dang young.