SAN RAMON — It has been four months, but the recollection still brings Steven White to tears. The act of generosity wasn't his but it stirs up emotion.

In August, White watched as John Valentine — White's longtime friend and employer — donated a collection of autographed footballs and other memorabilia to the sons of the late pro football star Derrick Thomas. The occasion was Thomas' posthumous induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, in Canton, Ohio.

Valentine, a Pleasanton resident who runs a capital asset management company in San Ramon, has been an avid Denver Broncos fan since childhood, and had never met the Thomas family previously. But he had purchased at least a dozen footballs signed by Thomas, as well as other collectibles, shortly after Thomas died in 2000. The former Kansas City Chiefs player succumbed to complications related to injuries from an auto accident.

Eight years after purchasing the Thomas items — most of which had sat in storage — Valentine finally realized what the items were meant for when he saw the Thomas family, in particular the player's 12-year-old son, Derrius, at the Hall of Fame induction.

Valentine's generosity with the Thomases struck a chord with White.

"Not a day that has gone by that I haven't thought about it," White said of Valentine's gesture. "The kid was speechless, from what I remember. I was caught up in the moment, too. I told John, 'That was really nice of you to do.' "

The gesture was priceless, but the purchase could have forced the orange-and-blue contingent of Denver Broncos fans to banish Valentine for buying the memorabilia of an ex-player for the Chiefs — one of the Broncos' longest-running rivals.


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And it was not the memorabilia of just any player, but that of Thomas — an imposing linebacker who terrorized and wreaked havoc on the Broncos and their fans for more than a decade.

Meant to buy it

Valentine, 48, is a collector of unique items not limited to sports. In his San Ramon office, a letter that Charles Evers wrote and read at the 1963 funeral of his brother — slain civil rights icon Medgar Evers — hangs in a conference room next to a transcript of a Ronald Reagan inauguration speech.

Old Chevron gas pumps greet visitors in the lobby of his company and the display cases are filled with items from auction houses throughout the world. At one auction, Thomas' stuff was put up for bid and Valentine knew he was meant to buy it.

Valentine, who went to the August induction ceremony as a guest of former Raider Rod Woodson, had no connection to Thomas, other than hoping he would take it easy on his beloved Broncos twice a year. But even as a Broncos fan, Valentine respected Thomas for his work ethic. When he saw the Thomas' family, Valentine told White about his Thomas items.

Before White could utter "Why do you have Chiefs memorabilia?" Valentine offered the collection to two of Thomas' sons and the Pro Football Hall of Fame — at no cost.

When Thomas died, Derrius, one of seven of Thomas' kids, was 3 and didn't own any memorabilia from his father's playing days.

"When I said, 'Would you like all of the stuff?' they were shocked," Valentine said. "I will never forget their faces at that moment.

"It was pretty emotional. It's where it should be and I hope they hold onto it forever," Valentine said.

'Wonderful surprise'

Recently, Valentine received a letter from Derrius that said in part: "My mother and I were touched by your thoughtfulness. It was a wonderful surprise. I will cherish these footballs forever."

The Hall of Fame — which was unable to provide an estimate of the value of the donated footballs — had only one Thomas ball at the time of his induction. Now, the Hall of Fame has three, two courtesy of Valentine. And Derrius, a football player himself, and his three brothers have something to remind them of their father.

The rest of the Thomas family was equally grateful. One aunt who still lives in Kansas City invited Valentine to stay with her family whenever the Broncos come to town.

"It's not the big rivalry it used to be," Valentine said. "The aunt said 'You are part of the Thomas family now for doing this.' "

Robert Jordan covers Dublin and Pleasanton. Reach him at 925-847-2184.