Former Miami Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas on Tuesday took an important step toward having his case for entrance into the Pro Football Hall of Fame heard by voters when he was selected one of 25 semifinalists for the Hall of Fame.
Former Dallas Cowboys and Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson, who selected Thomas in the fifth round of the 1996 draft, also is among a contingent of men with South Florida ties to be selected among the 25 semifinalists. That group also includes former University of Miami running back Edgerrin James and former University of Miami safety Ed Reed.
Three first-year eligible players – cornerback Champ Bailey, tight end Tony Gonzalez and Reed – are among the 25 semifinalists.
Thomas, who played for the Dolphins from 1996 through 2007 and then spent the 2008 season with the Dallas Cowboys, has been eligible to be a semifinalist before but is making that cut for the first time. Former Raiders coach Tom Flores also is making the cut to 25 for the first time.
Making the list of 25 semifinalists is a feat and Thomas obviously recognizes it as such.
“Man, when Jimmy drafted me in ‘96, all I wanted to do was just make the team and maybe get to cover a kick,” Thomas said. “So to be in the conversation among 25 all-time greats is humbling, especially when I look at the list of the other linebackers who I have so much respect for.”
Thomas is one of four linebackers among the semifinalists, along with Sam Mills, Karl Mecklenburg, and Clay Matthews.
The other semifinalists are Steve Atwater, Ronde Barber, Tony Boselli, Isaac Bruce, Leroy Butler, Don Coryell, Alan Faneca, Torry Holt, Steve Hutchinson, Ty Law, John Lynch, Kevin Mawae, Richard Seymour, Hines Ward, and Darren Woodson.
The list of semifinalists was reduced from an initial group of 103 nominees announced in September. The next step in the selection process comes on Jan. 3 when the semifinalists are trimmed to 15 Modern-Era Finalists.