Fred Thomas Ends 12-Year NFL Career

fred_thomas2.jpgFred Thomas vividly remembers his rookie season in the National
Football League with the Seattle Seahawks when he was asked to shut
down NFL legend and fellow Mississippian Jerry Rice in man-to-man
coverage. “I was so focused, I got right up in his face determined not to get
beat,” Thomas said. “Then the whistle blew, and I realized he wasn’t
lined up on the line of scrimmage. I was two yards offsides on the
first play.” After a 12-year career of going up against the best in the National
Football League, Bruce native Fred Thomas has announced his retirement.


By JOEL McNEECE
Fred Thomas vividly remembers his rookie season in the National Football League with the Seattle Seahawks when he was asked to shut down NFL legend and fellow Mississippian Jerry Rice in man-to-man coverage.
“I was so focused, I got right up in his face determined not to get beat,” Thomas said. “Then the whistle blew, and I realized he wasn’t lined up on the line of scrimmage. I was two yards offsides on the first play.”
After a 12-year career of going up against the best in the National Football League, Bruce native Fred Thomas has announced his retirement.
“I’m 100% sure this time,” said Thomas, who has contemplated retirement after each of the past several seasons.
fred_thomas1.jpgThomas said he hasn’t started to miss it yet, but it’s easy not to when his former teammates are sweltering in the Mississippi heat in Jackson for preseason camp.
“It’s easy for me not to miss it right now, but I think I’ll start missing it once they start playing games,” Thomas said.
He said he hasn’t paid a lot of attention to Saints’ training camp ongoing at Millsaps in Jackson, but hears from many of his former teammates daily.
“That’s what I’ll miss, being with the guys,” Thomas said. “Jason Craft, Jay Bellamy, and Charles Grant all seemed to migrate toward my locker when they came to the Saints, and we always had a great time. That camaraderie in the locker room I’m really going to miss. Those are really the only guys that can ever really understand what you’re going through as a player.”
Thomas was a second-round draft pick of the Seahawks in 1996. He said he was in awe much of those first couple of seasons in the league.
“I was definitely star struck,” Thomas said. “I was playing against a lot of guys I had watched on TV for so long – Joe Montana, Steve Young, John Elway. It took me two or three years to get over that and realize I’m playing on the same field.”
Indianapolis Colts QB Peyton Manning still hasn’t gotten over one of his first interceptions in the NFL that was snagged by Thomas.
“I tried to get him to sign the ball after the game but he wouldn’t,” Thomas grinned. “I’m still trying to get him to sign it, but every time I ask he just laughs. He’s got something against interceptions.”
Thomas said the receiver that gave him the most fits was Chris Carter.
“I remember arguing with him on the field, and he would just say I’m going to get you tonight on ESPN,” Thomas said. “Then when I would watch Sportscenter that night I saw what he meant. They showed those highlights of him beating me over and over again.”
After four years in Seattle, Thomas signed with the New Orleans Saints where he played the bulk of his 156 NFL games.
It was with the Saints that Thomas earned All-Pro from Sports Illustrated in 2002, presented the Ed Block Courage Award for playing through injuries, and was four times voted team captain of the Saints.
“The Ed Block award and being a captain meant the most to me,” Thomas said. “That let me know what my teammates and coaches thought of me.”
Thomas wore number 22 throughout his NFL career, but that was in question when the Saints drafted another number 22 – Deuce McAllister out of Ole Miss.
“The media really made a big deal of it,” Thomas said. “He came to me and made me an offer, but I told him it wasn’t for sale. He made his own number with 26. He was great about it. He’s always been a great guy.”
Of all the games he played in, Thomas points out the first game after Hurricane Katrina, a 23-3 win over the rival Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football.
“It’s hard to describe the emotion in that stadium that night,” Thomas said. “It meant a lot to be able to get out there and perform and give the city something it could be proud of.”
As a 5’9” cornerback from Bruce High School, Thomas worked his way up through Northwest Community College, Ole Miss, and ultimately Tennessee-Martin before getting the call from the NFL.
“I never thought the NFL was a possibility growing up,” Thomas said. “I played with a lot of talented players coming up and never considered myself an NFL player. When I started getting phone calls from agents for the first time, I thought it was my teammates playing jokes on me.”
Former Bruce coaches Dennis Robbins and Donnie Logan, Northwest coach Bobby Franklin, and Joe Lee Dunn at Ole Miss were among the coaches Thomas said had a big impact on him.
Once in the NFL, Dennis Erickson in Seattle and former New Orleans Saints head coach Jim Haslett were instrumental in his career.
“They all played the same role with me,” Thomas said. “It was a personal relationship that went beyond the football field.”
Thomas leaves the NFL having had 11 surgeries, almost one for every year in the league.
“I can’t say what the future holds for me as far as my health,” Thomas said. “But right now the only injury I still feel every day is the nerve damage in my hand where I broke it twice. I can’t grip very well with that hand.”
Thomas has successful real estate and limousine companies in New Orleans he founded years ago that are occupying his time right now. His wife Vickie, a Calhoun City native, runs the limousine company.
“Both businesses have really grown in the past few years,” Thomas said. “That’s a blessing for us.”
But he plans to spend most of his time catching up with his family.
“Professional football takes up so much of your time,” Thomas said. “You miss out on a lot of time with your kids, so right now that’s my focus.”
Fred and Vickie have three children – Jasmine, 15, Jayla, 9, and Jace, 1.
“It would be impossible for me to thank everybody who supported me throughout my career,” Thomas said. “But the most important are my wife and kids.”

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