Former linebackers Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher were elected to the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame's Class of 2018 as first-ballot candidates, and understandably so. They were first-team all-decade choices who dominated the game while they played.
But what about Miami's Zach Thomas? He was an all-decade choice, too, and the only reason he wasn't on the first team is because he played when Lewis and Urlacher did. But he's deserving, named to seven All-Pro teams and seven Pro Bowls, chosen as the AFC's Defensive Rookie of the Year and twice chosen as the NFL Alumni's Linebacker of the Year.
The guy was a tackling machine, ranked sixth all-time among linebackers in tackles, yet Zach Thomas has never been a finalist or semifinalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Surprising? Yes. But it doesn't seem to bother Thomas, who made a rare appearance two weeks ago on a Talk of Fame Network broadcast.
"Every year I get nominated my family, friends and fans all congratulate me," Thomas said. "But they also ... when I don't get to the finals ... my family blows my phone up. So I give them one day to vent. That's a new rule that I gave them because they're biased, they're my biggest fans and they're proud of me. But I do that just to keep positive energy because the game's been so good to me. And it doesn't owe me anything."
Thomas' attitude is as refreshing as it is rare. For nearly three years former wide receiver Terrell Owens whined about not making the Hall, calling the process "a total joke" after failing to reach it in his second year of eligibility. But he wasn't a first-team all-decade choice. He was a second-teamer.
Thomas was a second-teamer, too, and, as I mentioned, hasn't even been a semifinalist. But he hasn't complained, and he won't ... for the very reasons he just expressed.
"And that's why I look at it like this," he said. "If I deserve to make it, I will make it. And, if I don't, it doesn't take anything away from what I'm proudest of. For me, it's just all ego, and I don't want to take anything away from the guys that did make it. It's the best of the best, and you rely on so many different things to make it there.
"For me, if I look back at when I was eight years old ... in high school ... or college ... and I would've told myself then that I would've made the High School Hall of Fame and I made the College Hall of Fame, but I'd be on the bubble to make the NFL (Pro Football) Hall of Fame, there's no complaining by me. To make 13 seasons ... when I was a kid I would've made a deal with the devil to play one year. So just to be in the conversation is an honor."