Though it's been over a year since Zach Thomas last played in a game, Thursday officially marked the end of his NFL career. Luckily it was done the right way, with Thomas signing a one day contract to retire as a member of the Miami Dolphins - the team he gave his heart, soul, and health to for 12 years.
Despite it being rumored for some time that Thomas was hoping to officially retire as a Dolphin, Thomas himself confirmed that his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, sent Jeff Ireland a text on Wednesday requesting an opportunity to retire as a Dolphin. Thomas said that "Jeff texted him back in like two minutes. He said, 'It'll be an honor.' "
During the press conference on Thursday, Tony Sparano shared an excellent story that epitomizes what Zach Thomas was all about. He spoke about when he was in Dallas and was preparing to play against Thomas and the Dolphins. He said that he knew they had to figure out how to block Zach, saying "we’ve got to find a way to put a hat on number 54 or else he’s going to make every tackle on the field out there." Sparano continues:
"If we don’t block him, he’s going to make all the plays. So we figure out, at 11 o’clock in the evening some night that we’ve got to trick this guy. We’ve got to get him with different formations; we’ve got to show him something that he’s not studying right now and that he hasn’t seen."
"We do this, a long week, get to the game, I’m coaching the offensive line and in two series the guys come off the field and they look at me in the face and they say, ‘Coach, you’re plan didn’t work. The guy’s calling out every play before we even get out of the huddle.’ So that tells you the type of player that we’re talking about right now."
You can read all of what was said at the gathering - and even watch the full video - right at the Dolphins web site.
Rather than recap all of what was said by Thomas and about Thomas, let's focus on the debate that will likely play out in about five years - when Zach becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame.
Is Thomas a Hall of Famer? Zach isn't really concerned about it, saying, "If it happens, it happens, but I'm not going to lose any sleep over it."
That's what I'd expect the classy Thomas to say. But I care - and I bet many of you probably do to. So let's discuss it for a moment.
Depending on where you look, you will see that Zach's tackle numbers are different. The Dolphins have him down for 1,866 tackles, with 1,244 of them solo. ESPN says Zach totaled 1,720 tackles (1,090 solo). Sports Illustrated, via Stats LLC, has Thomas credited with 1,733 tackles (1,103 solo). Regardless of the actual number, Thomas does have more career tackles than any player inducted into the Hall of Fame.
That says a lot. But it's also misleading because the number of games played has changed and recording tackle statistics is an inexact science. It wasn't even an official stat until the late 1990s.
Thomas was more than tackles, though. His 17 career interceptions are more than Mike Singletary and Harry Carson. His four career interception returns for touchdowns are the fourth most in NFL history among linebackers.
With that said, here's my case for Zach's admittance into the Hall of Fame. Was Thomas the best in the business for a sustained amount of time when he played?
The answer is a resounding "yes."
Thomas was named as a first team All-Pro by the Associated Press five times. That means they considered Zach the very best middle linebacker in the NFL in five different seasons. Thomas was also named a second team All-Pro two additional times, meaning he was considered the second best at his position. That's seven total seasons in which Zach was considered by an impartial panel to be one of the two best middle linebackers in the NFL.
How is that not Hall of Fame worthy?
Consider some of those already in the Hall. Nick Buoniconti, like Zach, was named a first team All-Pro five times.Andre Tippet was named first team All-Pro only twice. Harry Carson was named second team All-Pro four times but never earned a first team honor. Derrick Thomas was named first team All-Pro only twice. Willie Lanier was only named to the first team three times. In fact, the great Ray Nitschke was only named a first team All-Pro twice.
If those guys are all Hall of Famers, then it would be a shame if Zach got left behind.
Armando Salguero wrote an excellent piece on Thursday sharing some insight on the kind of player - and person, Zach Thomas was. And if you want to learn more about Thomas - the player and the person - you won't have to search very long. It seems like everybody, from fans to teammates to opponents to the media, have nothing but kind words for Thomas.
Zach did convey on Thursday that there was one thing he felt bad about:
"For the fans, it's been a great ride. We've had our ups and downs, but I really feel like you all have shown unconditional love for me the whole time I was here. I'm sorry we couldn't bring you a Super Bowl ring."
You have absolutely nothing to apologize for, Zach. It was an honor to watch you play this game.