Yes, you are correct, I stole the idea of looking back at the greatness of former Miami Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas from Kdogs daily thread. As I have been living in hospitals for the last six weeks as my grandmother continues to work on recovering my inspiration for writing much of anything has been a bit lacking. I don’t suspect hospitals do much to inspire anyone’s creativity outside of trying to figure out ways to get the hell out of there. For those of you that have asked, she is doing well and now in a rehab facility. As she was in bed in the hospital for so long she will probably move from here to a longer stay rehab facility in hopes of her being able to walk again, with the aid of her walker so we can bring her back home. Getting old is not for the weak, that’s for damn sure!
As far as me having any direct personal experience with Zach Thomas I have never had the chance to meet the man in person. I was fortunate, growing up in South Florida to have met many of the players from the ’70s and early 80s either directly through my parent's or grandparents' mutual friends with some players or just by chance. I am not sure why but the greater Miami area seemed like a much smaller place when I was a kid. Of course, the population of greater Dade County has grown from just under 1.3 million then to nearly 3 million now which must mean I am getting old myself!
The closest personal story I have as it applies to Zach is the fact that he and my sister-in-law come from the same tiny little town and both families know each other. My sister-in-law never knew Zach directly, that she can recall, but did know his sister well and graduated with her from Pampa High School. His sister Katina, as most of you are already aware of, was also married to former Miami Dolphins Hall Of Famer Jason Taylor for 15 years.
I also used to work with a guy from another tiny town in West Texas, Canyon Texas. He played running back for Canyon High School, starting three of his four years on the team and then eventually going on to play four more years for a small Christian college somewhere in Texas. He told me that in all the years he played football, from Pee-Wee to college that he was only knocked out twice. Both times were the two times that he faced Zach Thomas in High School. The story in no way says anything about how great he eventually became at the pro level but I always found it a great story all the same.
As I have previously mentioned Thomas played for Pampa High School in Pampa Texas and was actually born in Pampa. But before he played for Pampa he attended and played for White Deer Schools in White Deer Texas where as a freshman his team went 16-0 and won the Class 1A Texas State Championship. Thomas transferred to Pampa High as a junior. Thomas was of course a standout high school player and was named a first-team all-state selection for his Senior season.
Despite his standout career in High School most of Zachs offers from colleges were from smaller schools. Zach instead decided to become a walk-on at the closest Division 1A team to his hometown at Texas Tech in Lubbock Texas. He was later given a scholarship and started his final three seasons for the Red Raiders. Thomas earned first-team All-American honors as a Junior and as a Senior was a unanimous first-team All-American as well as the Southwest Conference’s Defensive Player Of The Year and was a finalist for the Butkus Award (the Butkus Award is given out annually to the best linebackers in high school, college and at the pro level). Thomas is one of only five former Red Raiders to ever be named unanimous All-Americans. During his time in Lubbock Thomas racked up 390 tackles that included a career-high 131 tackles during his senior season. He also recorded a team record of 20 tackles in one game during his senior season against the Missouri Tigers. In addition to his impressive tackle numbers, Thomas also racked up 7 interceptions with two returned for touchdowns. In recognition of his outstanding college career, Thomas was inducted into the Collge Football Hall Of Fame in 2015.
As stated in the story from this morning only one team sent a coach to Lubbock Texas to work out the linebacker that most of the NFL scouts considered just “too small” to play at the NFL level. Luckily for us Miami Dolphins fans that lone assistant was the Dolphin's own Mike Westhoff. Westhoff for those that do not remember was the Dolphin's innovative special teams coach back in those days. Westhoff spent 15 years with the Phins as both the special team's coach and the tight ends coach. Westhoff's last stint in the NFL was with the Saints from 2017 to 2018 as their special team's coach. Westhoff while in Lubbock to work Thomas out asked to watch the tape of Thomas’ worst college game. Westhoff was so impressed with Thomas’s overall talent, body control, and ability to make every tackle, despite it being his worst overall game.
Luckily for the Miami Dolphins fans then head coach Jimmy Johnson, known as one of the best talent evaluators in NFL history, also loved what he saw on tape from Thomas. Even though some questioned the pick in the fifth round, which will always go down as one of if not the best bargains in the NFL draft for the Dolphins, Johnson stated “When I watched his game tapes all the kid did was make plays”. Johnson saw Zach as a late-round steal even if others around the league were not sold on him due to his lack of size. Luckily he was dead on and just two weeks into training camp Johnson was so sold on Thomas’ ability to play at the NFL level that he cut veteran linebacker Jack Del Rio who had been signed in the offseason to be the starter.
Zach went on to not only be a long-time starter but the leader of the Miami Dolphins defense for 12 straight seasons from 1996 to 2007. Zach also spent one season with the Dallas Cowboys in 2008 but we will try and forget about that. He was also signed as a free agent for one season by the Kansas City Cheifs but was later cut in camp following a concussion. Following the 2009 season, Thomas decided to retire and was signed to a one-day contract by the Miami Dolphins for one dollar allowing him to retire as a member of the Dolphins. While I understand that the NFL is a business and sometimes a very cold business he’s one of just a handful of former Miami Dolphins that I believe should have never been cut but instead allowed to leave the game under his own terms. But sadly it seems to happen to nearly every great in sports at some point.
As far as his impressive career in Miami he played in 168 games for the Dolphins, starting in every single one of those 168 games. In those 12 seasons in Miami, he also recorded 1,626 total tackles, 1,025 of those solo tackles. He recorded 20.5 quarterback sacks to go along with 17 interceptions, with 170 return yards, and 4 touchdowns. Thomas also defended 68 passes and forced 17 fumbles, 8 of which he recovered himself. Despite being repeatedly snubbed by the Pro Football Hall Of Fame selection committee for the last three years, and despite being a finalist each of those years, his list of awards and accomplishments during his 13 NFL seasons is as impressive and long a list as any player can hope to rack up in a lifetime. The only other two linebackers that are currently in the Pro Football Hall Of Fame with more combined tackles over their careers are both players with Miami ties. One is Junior Seau (1,846 tackles) who is mostly known for playing for the San Diego Chargers but also played alongside Thomas for the Dolphins for three seasons from 2003 to 2005. The second is Ray Lewis (2,061 tackles) who before his standout career with the Baltimore Ravens played for the University Of Miami Hurricanes and was born and raised in central Florida.
Thomas’ other accolades and awards are as follows-
- College Football Hall of Fame
- Texas Tech Hall Of Fame
- Second-team Houston Chronicle All-SWC (1993)
- Second-team Houston Post All-SWC (1993)
- First-team UPI All-American (1994)
- Second-team Football News All-American (1994)
- Second-team Sporting News All-American (1994)
- 2× SWC Defensive Player of the Year (1994, 1995)
- Unanimous first-team All-American (1995)
- First-team All-SWC (1995)
- NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month (October 1996)
- All-Rookie selection by College & Pro Football Newsweekly, The Football News, Pro Football Weekly, and the Pro Football Writers of America (1996)
- AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year (1996)
- Dolphins MVP and Newcomer of the Year by South Florida media (1996)
- Dolphins’ 1996 Unsung Hero Award as selected by NFL Players Association
- AFC Defensive Player of the Month (September 1998)
- First-team All-Pro selection by the USA Today, College & Pro Football Newsweekly, and Football Digest (1998)
- 1998 All-Madden Team (1998)
- 2× NFL Alumni Association’s Linebacker of the Year (1998, 2006)
- 3× Dolphins’ Leadership Award (1998, 1999, 2005)
- 7× NFL Pro Bowl selection (1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006)
- 5× First-team All-Pro (1998, 1999, 2002, 2003, 2006)
- Weeks 1 & 16 2001 AFC Defensive Player of the Week (2001)
- Dolphins MVP by South Florida media and fans (2001)
- All-Iron Team as selected by CBS analyst Phil Simms (2001)
- PFWA Dolphins Chapter “Good Guy” Award (2001)
- 2× Second-team All-Pro (2001, 2005)
- First-team Pro Football Weekly All-AFC (2002)
- First-team Sports Illustrated All-Pro (2003)
- Second-team Football Digest All-Pro (2003)
- Week 14 AFC Defensive Player of the Week (2005)
- All-AFC selection by Pro Football Weekly and the Pro Football Writers of America (2006)
- Miami Dolphins Honor Roll
- NFL 2000s All-Decade Team
Please let us know in the comment section below what your favorite memories are of Zach Thomas playing for the Dolphins or maybe you have an interesting story of meeting him in person that you would like to share. Please let us know below-
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