Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition

Finally: A Hall call

Zach Thomas voted into Pro Football Hall of Fame

- By David Furones

The fourth time was the charm for Zach Thomas.

The great Miami Dolphins linebacker is bound for the Pro Football Hall of Fame as one of five modern-day players elected Thursday night at NFL Honors awards ceremony. Thomas was a four-time finalist for the Hall who was held out the first three instances.

In among 15 finalists from the modern era, Thomas — who was on the ballot for 10 years — and the rest of the nine-man 2023 class will be enshrined into the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio in August.

“I am truly honored and humbled to be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” Thomas said in a statement released by the Dolphins. “Growing up in Texas, I dreamed of playing football at any level. To have played at Texas Tech and then be drafted by the Dolphins was the ultimate. It was indeed a dream come true. I want to thank my family for all the sacrifices they made for me over the years. I could never have accomplish­ed this without your love and support. Thank you to all of my teammates. Each of you made me a better player and are a big part of where I am today. I’m looking forward to celebratin­g this with all of you. Thanks to all my coaches, trainers and equipment staff for helping this honor become a reality. Lastly, I want to thank the Dolphins fans. Your support means everything to me.”

The other modern-day players elected were offensive tackle Joe Thomas, cornerback Darrelle Revis, edge defender Demarcus Ware and cornerback Ronde Barber. Others in were Don Coryell, Ken Riley, Joe Klecko and Chuck Howley.

Thomas is the 11th player or coach from the Dolphins to get into the Hall of Fame.

“On behalf of the entire Dolphins organizati­on and our fans around the world, I want to congratula­te Zach on his election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” said Dolphins owner Steve Ross in a statement. “It was a joy to watch him play the game. Zach’s accomplish­ments on the field made him one of the greatest players in NFL history. His developmen­t from a fifth-round draft choice to a perennial Pro Bowl selection to receiving the most prestigiou­s honor this game has to offer is a testament to his ability as both a player and a student of the game. As great as he was on the field, he is even better as a family man and a role model. We look forward to celebratin­g with him in Canton.”

Thomas, in his illustriou­s 13-year career, totaled 1,734 tackles, 20 ½ sacks, 17 intercepti­ons, 14 forced fumbles and four touchdowns. Thomas received All-Pro honors seven times — five as a first-teamer — and made seven Pro Bowls. He also is a member of the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 2000s.

He was the 1996 AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year and went on to lead the NFL in tackles twice.

With a resume comparable to that of Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, who was a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2018, the Hall’s Selection Committee has been criticized for the wait imposed on Thomas. The only middle linebacker who was clearly more impressive than Thomas during his era was Ray Lewis, who was also a first-ballot inductee. Thomas paid no mind to the times he didn’t get the nod.

“I am grateful that I got this opportunit­y to get in because it’s hard to get in. It’s very hard,” he told reporters Thursday. “I’m finally in, man. You can’t take me out. I’m very blessed.”

In a social media video posted by the Dolphins, though, he empathized with his fans and supporters that made the case for him all the years he didn’t get in: “You don’t have to vent no more about me not making the Hall of Fame.”

Another video circulated of former Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson surprising Thomas with word that he was a Hall of Fame inductee, surrounded by Thomas’ family and friends.

“It was powerful,” Thomas said. “I see Jimmy in a gold jacket just standing there and, man, I broke down. I cried, even thinking about it now, and I really appreciate that guy.”

Thomas said Johnson, who also announced his name at NFL Honors Thursday night, will be his presenter in Canton in August.

In Thomas’ 12 years with the Dolphins (he finished with the Dallas Cowboys in 2008), he anchored one of the best defenses in the NFL, especially from 2000 to 2003. During that span, Miami ranked third, 11th, fourth and third in scoring defense. Former Dolphins star pass rusher Jason Taylor, who anchored that defense alongside Thomas, was a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee in 2017.

Thomas becomes the third Dolphins defensive player inducted, along with Taylor and linebacker Nick Buoniconti. Other Dolphins enshrined include coach Don Shula, fullback Larry Csonka, quarterbac­k Bob Griese, center Jim Langer, guard Larry Little, quarterbac­k Dan Marino, center Dwight Stephenson and wide receiver Paul Warfield.

Among other players of local interest to South Florida, former Miami Hurricanes standouts Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne and Devin Hester were not inducted into the 2023 class after being finalists.

During the awards ceremony Thursday night, Dolphins receiver Tyreek Hill was one of four finalists for AP Offensive Player of the Year, but it was won by Minnesota Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson.

While Dolphins outside linebacker Jaelan Phillips was the team’s nominee for Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, the honor was given to Dallas Cowboys quarterbac­k Dak Prescott.

San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa, a former St. Thomas Aquinas standout, won AP Defensive Player of the Year.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterbac­k Patrick Mahomes, who will face the Philadelph­ia Eagles in Sunday’s Super Bowl, won his second MVP.

 ?? ?? Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s 2023 class in his fourth season as a finalist on Thursday night.
Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s 2023 class in his fourth season as a finalist on Thursday night.

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