Talk about having your heart ripped out on Valentine's Day...
Zach Thomas, the heart and soul of the Miami Dolphins, has been released by the team. This is a sad, sad day, indeed.
With the exception of Dolphins fans, I'm almost certain that a majority of NFL fans don't really know or understand just how amazing a football player Thomas has been for over a decade.
Quick, name the best three middle linebackers in the league over the past five years. Was Thomas on that list? He should have topped it.
In my mind, and the minds of many other Dolphans, Thomas has become somewhat of a "Dan Marino of the defense," if you will: The shining beacon for what it means to be the best at your position. He's the one guy you would point to if you had to show someone how to play middle linebacker.
An underdog from day one, Thomas was told he was too small to play in the NFL. After all, he's only 5'11", 228 lbs. But as they say, "It's not the size of the dog in the fight..." I have never seen anyone exemplify that old saying more than Zach.
Sure, he is undersized, but he has outproduced almost every other middle linebacker in the past decade. He already has more tackles than any other linebacker currently in the Hall of Fame, and there's no question in my mind that Canton is Thomas' ultimate destination, no matter how many more seasons he chooses to play.
The reason that Zach is continuously overlooked in the public eye for more high-profiled linebackers like Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher is largely due to his low-key personality and his incredible consistency. It seems like unless you are doing something to personally draw attention to yourself, the media and critics just don't care to pay attention to eye-popping performances year in and year out.
Sports Illustrated recently wrote that, "If you keep banging out great seasons with none standing out more than any other, who's going to notice?"
That quote was referencing Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs, but it may as well have been about Zach.
But like any great player, Thomas is much more than just his on-field production. He has the kind of character that ever athlete should aspire to.
Zach is the personification of heart.
For the past decade-plus, he has been the backbone of the Miami defense, and despite being overshadowed by the similarly great Jason Taylor, Zach has happily accepted his role as the "everyman" who plays like anything but.
Through intense physical pain and the even more intense agony that accompanies repeated losing seasons, Zach just quietly gritted his teeth and got his job done, even if the rest of the team was letting him down.
To succeed as Zach did, while almost the entire team collapsed around him, is amazing. A lot of players would simply have thrown in the towel as well, thinking it a useless cause to expend the energy towards a futile objective.
And that is what separates Zach from most other NFL players - his heart and his desire are unmatched.
I wanted to see Thomas finish out his career as a Dolphin, but that is not to be. He wants to continue playing, and I wish him the very best of luck wherever he may end up (even if he does go to New England). Whoever ends up signing him is going to be getting a gem of a player.
Of course, if there was any doubt as to where Thomas' true loyalties lie, he made it clear in his parting statement: "I am healthy and look forward to playing in 2008, but I will always consider myself a Miami Dolphin."
That is class.
Zach, you'll always have a special place in our hearts and minds. Thank you so very much for everything you've given to us as fans and to the Miami Dolphins franchise. You truly will be missed.