The explanation for Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas's record seven-sack performance against the Seahawks lies deep within his memory. It was Veterans Day on Sunday and Thomas wanted to pay tribute to a former soldier he loved but barely knew: his father.

Capt. Robert Thomas was a B-52 bomber crew member during the Vietnam War. In December 1972 his plane was shot down during a bombing raid that was part of something called "Operation Linebacker Two."

After the plane was hit, Thomas made sure the rest of the crew parachuted to safety and then, according to crew members, he jumped out just before the aircraft exploded. The rest of the crew survived; Thomas never was found.

When his father disappeared, Derrick Thomas was 5 years old.

"They don't know if he was captured or what," Thomas said. "There's a chance he's still over there. As long as there are people over there, there's a chance."

Thomas thinks his father is still able to watch him play, so he strapped on his black shoes -- a color prominent in POW-MIA flags -- and went to work against the Seahawks. What followed was just short of remarkable.

Thomas sacked Dave Krieg an NFL-record seven times, but the Chiefs lost, 17-16, when Thomas missed Krieg, and the quarterback threw a touchdown pass as time expired. The extra point won it for Seattle. Thomas turned in his record performance despite being double-teamed and, late in the game, sometimes triple-teamed.

"I was definitely on a mission," Thomas said.

Krieg escaped Thomas only once.

Still, the effort gave Thomas 25 sacks in his first 25 games, easily an NFL record for sacks per game. He leads the league this season with 15 and needs eight in seven games to top former Jets defensive end Mark Gastineau's record of 22, set in 1984. Of course, the 21 sacks in 12 games by the Eagles' Reggie White in strike-shortened 1987 is the more impressive mark. Getting Drafty

Tempers already are hot over whether college football players should have the option of applying for the NFL draft then returning to school if the price isn't right. The NCAA isn't even scheduled to vote on such a measure until 1992.

NCAA Executive Director Dick Schultz backs the idea, as does Charlie Theokas, Temple athletic director and chairman of the NCAA pro liaison committee.

If allowed, the student-athlete would have massive bargaining power and more options. If he did not receive the desired salary offer, he could always say he would go back to school, thereby forcing an NFL team's hand.

The NFL, of course, is scared to death of such an idea. It could drive already high salaries even higher.

"Don't we have the right to be fiscally responsible?" asked Giants General Manager George Young, the chairman of the NFL college and pro relations committee.

A World of Cornucopia

From the world of the unusual: The 8-1 Bears are the only team to have more yards rushing (1,499) than passing (1,456).

From the world of Slim Fast: He was once close to 300 pounds, but Saints running back Craig "Ironhead" Heyward now is a trim 254 and on a roll instead of eating one. In his first seven games, Heyward rushed for 35 yards on 11 carries. But in his last two, he has 277 yards on 39 attempts. He ran for 155 yards against the Buccaneers on Sunday.

"I feel like I'm in college again," the former Pitt star said. . . .

The Dolphins put wide receiver Mark Clayton on injured reserve because of a knee injury suffered Sunday against the Jets. It is the first piece of bad news the 8-1 Dolphins have gotten in some time. Clayton has caught at least one pass in 61 consecutive games, and he can resume the streak when he returns. . . .

Browns owner Art Modell is quickly becoming known as the George Steinbrenner of professional football, changing coaches as if they were T-shirts. He has had four in six years: Sam Rutigliano was fired in 1984, Marty Schottenheimer in 1988, Bud Carson this month and now poor Jim Shofner is the interim coach. He too probably will be replaced at the end of the season.

And Modell is targeting General Manager Ernie Accorsi and pro personnel director Mike Lombardi. Modell said: "I think the whole organization is going to be reviewed. I'm not happy with the talent we've acquired. We could do a better job and we will do a better job." . . .

When Heath Sherman was picked in the sixth round of the draft last year by the Eagles, he was announced as Sherman Heath. Coach Buddy Ryan calls him Keith Sherman or Herman Herman or just "number 23."

By any name, Sherman has helped put the Eagles back into playoff contention. He is the first Philadelphia running back to post back-to-back 100-yard rushing games (113 against New England and 124 against the Redskins) since Wilbert Montgomery had three in a row in 1981.

At Texas A&I, Sherman was the blocking back for Johnny Bailey (now with the Bears), the NCAA's all-time leading rusher.

Sherman's 35 carries against Washington tied the Eagles record set in 1949 by Steve Van Buren against the New York Bulldogs.

The Bulldogs? . . .

It was not a great debut for Lions first-round pick Andre Ware: five of 11 and two interceptions against the Vikings. Those were far from the atomic numbers he put up at the University of Houston last year, numbers that won him the Heisman Trophy.

Injured starter Rodney Peete was surprised Ware got the start, and backup Bob Gagliano was angry, saying, "Here I am being the diplomat again." Both think Ware, always somewhat cocky, is brash. That goes back to his days at Houston when just about no one could stop him.

But the Vikings did, and Ware was replaced by Gagliano. To which Ware responded: "The mistakes were there, but I don't know how many quarterbacks have gotten yanked after being down only 7-0."

The Upset Pick

It seems the Broncos' string of Super Bowl losses is beginning to rub off on their regular season. A 3-6 record? Yuk. But the Denver faithful should cry no more because this week the Broncos will beat the Bears by a touchdown at Mile High Stadium.

Record to date: 0-3.