Dolphins star Zach Thomas has his day in Canton, Ohio

Miami Dolphins v New York Giants
Miami Dolphins v New York Giants / Mitchell Layton/GettyImages

The Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2023 is dominated by one side of the football. Seven of the nine members are defensive stars. There’s a versatile man in the trenches (Joe Klecko), a trio of ball-hawking defensive backs (Ronde Barber, Darrelle Revis and Ken Riley) and three big-play linebackers (Chuck Howley, DeMarcus Ware and Zach Thomas).

Of course, the latter played the vast majority of his career (12 seasons) with the Miami Dolphins. Jimmy Johnson and the organization made him a fifth-round draft choice back in 1996. He made his presence felt all over the field. He was a seven-time Pro Bowler, a five-time All-Pro and now his bust will reside in Canton, Ohio.

On Friday night at the Enshrinees’ Gold Jacket Dinner, Thomas walked the returning Hall of Famers “gauntlet” on his way to get the latest addition to his wardrobe. No one embraced him longer than one-time Jets’ center Kevin Mawae, who pushed for his longtime rival’s candidacy during his own enshrinement speech in 2019.

On Saturday afternoon at the Hall of Fame as he spoke to the crowd (full speech here), he reminisced about how Dolphins’ head coach Jimmy Johnson named him the team’s starting middle linebacker on this day (August 5) in 1996. He talked about his high school, college and NFL coaches. He swelled in pride in stating that he was the first Texas Tech Red Raider to be enshrined in Canton.

Thomas mentioned Dolphins’ teammates such as defensive end Trace Armstrong, “underrated” defensive tackle Tim Bowens, linebacker Larry Izzo, cornerbacks Patrick Surtain and Sam Madison and quarterback Dan Marino, to name just a few.

He even took time to mention the fans of the Buffalo Bills, New England Patriots and New York Jets. “The rivalries are what make the NFL great,” said the 13-year pro, who spent his final season in the league with the Dallas Cowboys in 2008.

There was talk of family and friends, his fellow Class of 2023 honorees and his love for “inspirational” linebacker and now fellow Hall of Famer Junior Seau. “I am truly honored to join him.”

Thomas summed it up quite eloquently. “This is a dream come true for this smalltown country boy to be standing here on this stage with all these legends behind me. My football career has come full circle. From August 5th, 1996, being given that one chance, to August 5th, 2023, being forever enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, baby…”