Class of 2023
AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year
Additional career statistics: Kickoff returns: 2-32.
Full name: Zachary Michael Thomas
Birthdate: Sept. 1, 1973
Birthplace: Pampa, Texas
High school: White Deer (Texas); Pampa (Texas)
Pro career: 13 seasons, 184 games.
Drafted: Fifth round (154th overall) in 1996 by Miami Dolphins
Uniform numbers: 54 (Miami), 55 (Dallas).
All you need is one chance, and Jimmy gave that to me. I was a kid who didn't look the part, and I was 154th draft pick.
Where did Coach go? There he is. Hey, thank you, Jimmy, for believing in me and giving me that chance. I never wanted to let you down, Coach. I always wanted to prove you right. Your passion and fire got the best out of everyone, and especially me. Twenty seven years later to this day, look how far we have come, Coach. I love you, man.
I start with thanking God who had His hand in all of this. At two years old, I was run over by a pickup truck. But you know what saved me that day? Dirt. If it was on concrete or pavement, I wouldn't be standing here right now.
My life has taken a lot of dirt roads to get here, and one of those dirt roads led me to White Deer, Texas, population 1,110. In 1988 White Deer High School won a state championship led by Coach Windy Williams. This is where I learned how to win.
To those White Deer teammates and coaches, thank you for teaching me how to get here.
Another dirt road took me to a small town Pampa, Texas. That's where I learned from great coaches and great men like Dennis Cavalier and Max Plunk. Max Plunk taught me a read that he drew up on a napkin. That read got me labeled instinctive and smart for the rest of my career.
Academically, I wasn't ever labeled smart, trust me. I got held back before I even got to kindergarten. How you get held back before you can get to school, but...
My next road took me to the cotton fields of Lubbock, Texas. I was recruited to Texas Tech to play fullback, but there was this guy by the name of Bam Morris, who I knew I couldn't beat out. So, I went back to the defensive side of the ball. How crazy is that? Thank you, Bam.
I'm humbled to be the first Red Raider inducted into the Hall of Fame.
So, thank you to the late Spike Dykes, John Goodner, my fellow Red Raider teammates, coaches, and staff. I will always be grateful for what you did for me.
Coach Mike Westoff, I see you. You flew from Miami to good ol' Lubbock, Texas, to scout me. And I thank you for embellishing my stats and especially that 40 time. You're a great friend, Mike.
I left the dirt roads for Miami, and there is no other place I'd rather call home. So, thank you to the late Wayne and Marti Huizenga, Stephen Ross and Tom Garfinkel for keeping this organization family and first class.
To all my coaches who challenged me every day and prepared me to play my best the late George Hill, Joel Collier, Randy Shannon, Jim Bates, Bob Sanders, George Edwards thank you. Dave Wannstedt, Dom Capers, Glenn Pires, John Gamble, B Ro, you all made me better.
To my teammates. Trace Armstrong, I respected your play and professionalism. Your character was a first class example of a man I aspired to be.
Larry Izzo, I see you too, Larry. Yes, sir. My day one roommate and best friend. We came in together as undersized long shots and created the best memories, laughter and stories I will take with me forever. And you finished with three rings, man, a real jerk. Don't you be wearing those rings to my party tonight, man.
Tim Bowens. Yes, sir. You are one of the most underrated and unselfish players I've ever known. You were a bad man, Timbo, and there was nothing more reassuring than seeing your big butt in front of me on Sundays.
And I played with two of the best cornerbacks in the game in Pat Surtain and Sam Madison. Talk about making my job easier. Yes, sir.
Dan Marino, your talent and toughness are the reason they call you The Man and The Legend. Love you, Dan.
Jason Taylor, I was honored to play beside you. You were the best and most intense competitor I have ever played with and father to my awesome niece and nephews, Isaiah, Mason and Zoey.
To all of my defensive linemen, linebackers who did all the dirty work and I got the credit, I am forever grateful. The linebacker room was full of unselfish guys like Dwight Hollier, Derrick Rodgers, Robert Jones, Channing Crowder, O.J Brigance, Morlon Greenwood, to name a few. Love you guys.
I also want to thank the entire Dolphin organization for being my second family. Stu, Ben, Seth, Tony, Fudge, Harvey, Father Leo, K.O., Joe, Charlie and especially my man Troy Maurer, you were my family for 12 years, and I can't thank you enough.
Drew and Jason Rosenhaus, you were both more than agents to me. You both were hard working, relentless, positive and loyal friends.
And to all my passionate Miami Dolphin fans, you mean the world to me.
When I looked up in the stands and saw you wearing my No. 54, I knew I couldn't let you down. Thanks for believing in me until the very end here and even putting pressure on the Hall of Fame to get me here.
Here we go.
To all the Buffalo, New England, and New York Jet fans hold on I got a couple for you. Despite all the things you screamed at me, threw at me, and did to me, don't tell anybody this, I really enjoyed it. And I still do. Yeah.
(Cheers and applause.)
The rivalries are what make the NFL so great.
Bill Belichick, it was a privilege to play against you and your team.
Kevin Mawae, you're one of the best and toughest opponent I ever faced. And I'm not even feeling real comfortable with you sitting behind me right now, man. Look at him over there. But I'm so relieved to see you out of that ugly green jacket and wearing a gold one. It's nice.
God blessed me with a Hall of Fame family. My greatest influences in my life are my mom and dad. Both are God loving parents who instilled hard work, the Catholic faith and compassion for others.
Mom led with love, kindness and a whole lot of discipline. Dad taught me toughness, respect, and how to compete in everything, even the races in the front yard that I never won. But, Dad, you jumped the gun all of the time, man. Stop. He's smiling.
My brother Bart, you are my hero, man.
We battled at everything, and you won everything. Your pursuit of greatness led me to do the same. When everybody else was out partying on Friday night, you and I were in the school gym working out and listening to cassette tapes of Whodini, Nucleus, Cameo and LL Cool J. We wore those cassette tapes out, man. That was awesome. Love you, bro.
Katina, you've always been our family cheerleader and party starter, bringing positive vibes to everyone you meet. You're like the spirit of Mom. I love you, sis.
Most importantly, I want to thank my beautiful wife, Maritza, for not listening to her brothers when they told her not to date an NFL football player. It's true. And both of them have got my jersey on right now. That's crazy.
(Laughter and applause.)
Yeah. All right. Babe yes, sir. Babe, we've been together 20 years now, and I thank you for your love and support always. You're the strength of our family, and I'm grateful to share this moment and life with you. I love you, babe.
To my kids, Christian, Valentina and Sienna, there's no greater honor than being your dad. I've gone from doing everything I could to reach my dreams to doing everything I possibly can to help you reach yours. And never forget that I love and believe in you unconditionally forever and ever.
Ooh, I got through it.
To the Hall of Fame committee and people of Canton, thank you for your hospitality. Jim Porter, Hayden Dennis, thank you for treating my family and friends like royalty.
To this incredible Class of 2023, congratulations.
But there's one person whose name I've yet to mention. His poster hung on my wall in college, and he was everything I wanted to be as a football player. He was my inspiration. He became my teammate and friend. Though he's not here physically, he's here in spirit and in a bust in that building behind me. I'm truly honored to join him. Junior Seau, love you, buddy.
(Cheers and applause.)
All right. Here we go. In closing, this is a dream come true for this small town country boy to be standing here on this stage with all these legends behind me. My football career has come full circle, from August 5, 1996, being given that one chance, to August 5, 2023, being forever enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, baby!
(Cheers and applause.)
Thank you. God bless you, God bless our troops and God bless America!