In light of the recent article by Pete Prisco that has outraged many Dolphin fans, guest writer Travis Wingfield has written a piece this week that makes a case for Thomas as a Hall of Famer. Enjoy:
One's image of a prototypical linebacker would include extraordinary physical gifts. You'd ask for good size with outstanding strength. You'd demand excellent speed, and most of all, explosiveness. Go ahead, take the work out warrior; I'll take the man with incredible instincts, a nose for the ball, a master of film study and preparation, and unthinkable desire. The latter is precisely how I would describe Miami Dolphins' middle linebacker Zach Thomas. Perhaps this is why he is often looked over many times when the discussion of the best linebackers in the NFL arises. Zach Thomas is living proof that to be great, a player doesn't have to be the biggest, strongest, or fastest, but can be the most smart and have the most desire. An enormous amount of credit has to be given to Jimmy Johnson for going beyond what meets the eye and looking inside the player he drafted in the 5th round of the 1996 draft. Thomas came in right away and since that day, Zach has never looked back. Hall of Fame voting is still probably 7 or 8 years out of the equation, but as retirement rears its ugly head, the Hall is certainly a topic worth debating.
While 99.9% of Dolphins fans would vote Thomas in, this thesis is for those who don't follow the Dolphins, or the rare Fins fan who doesn't believe Zach belongs in Canton. Since Thomas came into the league in '96, he's registered 1577 total tackles (the most in the NFL during that stretch), 18.5 sacks, 17 interceptions, 17 forced fumbles, 7 fumble recoveries, and 4 touchdowns. The only other linebacker that measures up to Thomas during those 11 seasons is Ray Lewis. Many would write Lewis as a sure fire first ballot Hall of Famer. When you compare Thomas and Lewis' numbers, you find they aren't that far apart. Lewis entered the league the same year as Thomas and has racked up 1389 total tackles (nearly 200 fewer than Thomas), 28 sacks, 23 interceptions, 8 forced fumbles and 11 fumble recoveries. These two have been paired in comparisons throughout their entire careers; Lewis has been the more glamorous and flashy player, but you can't beat the hard work and pure production that Thomas has brought to the Dolphins.
Comparisons could be made to players before Thomas, but they sway much too far in favor of Thomas due to different eras. Thomas hasn't been a Jack Lambert, Dick Butkus, Joe Green, or any of those other hard nosed historical linebackers, but he has always been prepared, and always makes tackles. When you turn on a Dolphins game and you watch the opposing team attempt to run the ball, the chances are extremely good that you'll see number 54 on or next to the pile.
The day Zach Thomas decides to hang it up will be a sad day in South Florida. This team's success depends heavily on Thomas' presence, as the defense is just not the same when number 54 isn't the man in the middle. When he missed time in the 2005 season, Thomas returned in a game in San Diego to take on the Chargers. Early on, a pass went over the middle to the best tight end in football, Antonio Gates. Gates had the ball tucked away in his gut and was going down for what appeared to be a simple 7 yard gain. The thing Gates neglected was that the man bringing him down was Zach Thomas. Thomas wrestled the ball away from Gates, taking it straight out of his hands for an interception. I know it's only one play, but it just shows that Miami is a different team when Zach is on the field. Zach Thomas is a Hall of Famer and if he is snubbed, the writers that get to vote will certainly hear it from plenty of the Dolphins' faithful who feel his snub would be intolerable.