As the Miami Dolphins embark on a new era at the linebacker position, perhaps it’s time we took a look back at one of the most dominant middle linebackers ever to strap on a helmet: one Zachary Michael Thomas. Born September 1st, 1973, in Pampa, Texas, near Amarillo, it would soon become clear that he was born to play the game. In Thomas’ freshman year of high school, his football team went 16-0 and won the state championship.
His success continued in college, at Texas Tech. A three year starter for the Red Raiders, Thomas was a first team All-American in both 1994 and ‘95. Deemed too short for the NFL (he stands a shade under 5’11”) by most scouts, he slid to the fifth round in the ‘96 draft, where then coach Jimmy Johnson selected him with the 154th overall pick. Regarding his lack of height, Thomas has often joked that ‘You don’t need a neck to play football’. Indeed, he sort of looks like a real life Fred Flintstone. It didn’t take long for him to make an impression with the Dolphins. Concerned with the team’s lack of playmakers at linebacker, Johnson brought in journeyman veteran Jack Del Rio to handle the middle linebacker position, but Thomas was such a sensation in camp and the preseason that Johnson ended up cutting Del Rio and installing Thomas as the team’s starting MLB. In the season opener, Thomas knocked New England wide receiver Shawn Jefferson out of the game. Jefferson must not have held any grudges, since he’s now Miami’s wide receivers coach.
That hit was just one of over eleven hundred tackles that Thomas laid on opposing offensive players over the course of his thirteen year career. In fact, he’s one of only three players in NFL history to have a hundred or more tackles his first ten seasons in the league, and until Junior Seau was inducted in 2015, Thomas had more tackles than any player in the Hall of Fame.
Now, however, the sportswriters responsible for HOF voting would have you believe that Thomas’ numbers are somehow not good enough to get him into the Hall. Former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher was voted in recently, and although he was undoubtedly a great player for Chicago, his and Thomas’ numbers are fairly similar. Urlacher has more tackles, sacks and interceptions, but Thomas has more forced fumbles and was All-Pro five times to Urlacher’s four, although Urlacher made eight Pro Bowls to Thomas’ seven.
Whether it’s because Urlacher was on a more successful team and went to a Super Bowl or Chicago’s larger media market that enabled him to play in more nationally televised games, Urlacher made the cut, while Thomas, at least to this point, has not. Let’s hope some of these folks eventually decide to do the right thing, because if Zach Thomas doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame, then there would seem to be little sense in having a Hall of Fame.