home sitesearch sitemap contact fan about
  Submit/Update Profile  

Search the Network:

Former Football: Orlando Thomas – “He lasted as long as he did ’cause he would never give up”

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Nov. 15, 2014


Orlando Thomas
(Photo: Scott Halleran, Getty Images)

Lewis Cook recalled visiting Orlando Thomas before another football season was about to get under way not long ago, and he will never forget how the conversation went.

Cook entered the room.

Thomas was in bed, unable to move because of amyotrophic lateral scleroris – ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, as it’s commonly known.

The former Crowley High, UL and Minnesota Vikings defensive back blinked as his wife, Demetra, offered up letters that she’d later translate and turn into sentences.

"This was hard," said Cook, Thomas’ coach at Crowley High and now the head coach at Notre Dame High in Crowley.

"Here’s a guy laying there – and has been in that bed for about, I don’t know, almost 10 years. I get in there, and she starts with the A, B, Cs, and she looks up and she goes, ‘How’s Miss Faye?’ "

Faye Cook, Cook’s wife.

"You know, she had breast cancer three years ago," Cook said. "And here he is – you know, you feel so bad for him – and he’s worrying about ‘How’s Miss Faye doing?’ It just breaks your heart."

Read More: UL to honor Thomas with helmet sticker

Read More: Sean Thomas to wear retired No. 42 jersey Saturday

Thomas, 42, died Sunday at his home in Youngsville after a roughly decade-long battle with ALS. He will be buried Saturday in his hometown of Crowley.

When he is, Cook won’t be the only one thinking of how Thomas – who led Crowley High to a state title in 1989, starred at UL from 1991-94 and went on to play seven seasons for the NFL’s Vikings – put concern for others far ahead of self-pity.

"His mind – which was the only thing in his body that really worked – was all about everyone else," said Mark Bartelstein, Thomas’ longtime Chicago-based agent.

"That’s all that really mattered to him, was how was everyone else doing. ‘How’s your family doing? How are you doing? How are your kids doing?’ That’s where his mind was at all the time. Just so much courage, and class, and dignity."

One day after Thomas’ death, Bartelstein struggled to find the right words to put his client’s post-diagnosis character into proper perspective.

"So many times," he said, "I just think when bad things happen, we go into great hyperbole, and dramatically enhance things.

"But I can’t do justice in my description of how courageous he was and how caring he was of everyone else.

"That’s all he did, was care about other people," the agent added. "I mean, here’s a guy that’s suffering the most insidious disease there is – and it’s taking away everything from him – and yet he’s worried about you’re doing."

From the archive: Ex-Cajun great Orlando Thomas, wife continue battling ALS

ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease affecting nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord, resulting in loss of control of muscle movement and ultimately death.

Cook recalls the time he took the UL football team’s Orlando Thomas Courage Award – Thomas himself was the first recipient – to the family home.

"(Wife Demetra) said, ‘Orlando wants you to know there would be no Orlando Thomas without Coach Cook,’ " Cook said. "I’m like … ‘You know I could whoop you now, finally. But don’t make me jump on you in that bed, and put a whooping upon you.’

"But that’s the kind of kid he was," the high school coach added. "It never was about him."

Certainly not when he was going toe-to-toe with ALS, and lasting about twice as long as most who are inflicted.

Apparently not while playing safety in Minnesota, or at UL either.

And definitely not at Crowley High, whose crowning achievement in football is one in which Thomas had a heavy hand.

"We won the state championship his senior year in high school – the only state championship Crowley has in football – and it wasn’t the most-talented team that’s every come through Crowley, I can promise you that," Cook said. "But that sucker willed that whole team to be the best it can be.

"He was gonna make sure that’s how it went. That’s just how he was. And that’s why he lasted as long as he did, cause he would never give up."