In the fifth round of the 1996 draft, the Miami Dolphins selected an undersized linebacker from Texas Tech. Fourteen years later, Zach Thomas retired as one of the biggest icons in Dolphins history. Although he stood smaller than most, his heart was bigger than the majority of the National Football league.
While attending Texas Tech, Thomas recieved many awards and honors as he recorded 390 tackles, including 131 as a senior. During that senior season, he made a school record 20 tackles in a single game against Missouri. All the while, remaining humble and giving praise to all those around him. To those that made it possible for him to become the player he was. His heart, humility and work ethic paid off as he became a member of the National Football League and a Miami Dolphin.
In his rookie season in Miami, Zach was a Pro Bowl alternate as well as an All-Rookie selection. The success continued on with him for the next 12 years in Miami. The first in the locker room, the last to leave, Thomas was a student of the game. He was a football junkie, and that gave him an edge. Now, Zach Thomas made the decision to sign a one day contract worth just $1 to retire with Miami. It was a very emotional day as stories were told by head coach Tony Sparano and Zach Thomas, reviewing over Zach’s career.
When Sparano took to the podium, he spoke of a moment in Dallas, while he was coaching the offensive line. They spent a week planning against Miami, and came to the conclusion that the way to beat the defense was to trick number 54. Two series into the game, Sparano’s players approached him and said, “Coach, your plan is not working. He knows the plays before we break out of the huddle.” That’s exactly what Thomas was about. He loved preparing all week for the game and executing to the best of his abilities.
Thomas is a very humble man, very classy. What he did on the field was the definition of football. What he did off the field was the definition of caring. His loyalty to his fans, teammates and family was what made him so special. Miami Dolphins’ general manager Jeff Ireland spoke of Zach Thomas in the highest regard, explaining that all players he wants on the Dolphins’ roster have to have the same work ethic and characteristics that Zach Thomas displayed. That was a team first mentality, the ability to work hard and know that you’re never bigger than the game. Thomas said it best, “the game of football doesn’t need you. You need the game of football.”
Over his 12 years in Miami, Thomas recorded 1,038 tackles, 19.5 sacks and 17 interceptions. All that while going to the Pro Bowl 7 times. When you look back at the greats in Dolphins’ history, there are many names that appear. When you ask who had the most heart, a majority will speak of Zach Thomas. The quiet warrior that led his team every Sunday. The humble human being who was disappointed in not winning a Superbowl ring for Miami. The man who was able to list off his teammates and give them all the recognition.
With Zach Thomas now retired as a Miami Dolphin, I truly believe he has earned the right to place his name with the other players that made such a huge impact on this organization. Just 3 numbers have been retired in Miami Dolphins’ history. Number 12 for Bob Griese. Number 13 for Dan “The Man” Marino. Number 39 for Larry Csonka. I hope one day, number 54 sits there in the Dolphins’ Ring Of Honor along with those greats, and that number is retired. For a man who epitomized how football should be played and how a man should act. Zach Thomas, you will be missed by many, respected by all and remembered forever by the game of football. Thank you.
Brandon Williams aka Gage is a Jabberhead and an SJ contributing author