AFC East: Dick Butkus
Today's question: I reach out to members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's board of selectors to ask "Is Zach Thomas, who retired Thursday as a Miami Dolphin, worthy of enshrinement?"
Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "Unless a guy's obvious, like Troy Aikman or Dan Marino or somebody like that, there's a reason you have a five-year period from the time a player retires until he's eligible. It gives us guys a chance to think about whether we want to vote for them or not. But my initial reaction? Zach Thomas just doesn't jump out at me as a Hall of Famer. Now, I'm not saying I won't vote for him. I have five years to think about it. But off the top of my head, he doesn't strike me as a Hall of Famer. But he's a candidate, and I'll look more into his career and talk to other people before I decide."
Dave Goldberg, AOL Fanhouse and formerly of The Associated Press: "I always have an open mind on these things, but right now I don't think so. My first thought is he is one of those guys in the Hall of Very Good. He was a very good player for a long time, but did he stand out? No. There are so many of these guys, and he's one step away, one level below the Hall of Fame. I remember his first day in training camp with the Dolphins. I was there. Jimmy Johnson loved Zach Thomas from the first day. He was too small and a fifth-round pick, but he was smart and a leader and was quick. But as a Hall of Famer? Not quite. He didn't quite have the impact. I don't remember him dominating games, and that's what I think of when I think of Hall of Famers."
John McClain, Houston Chronicle: "I've watched him since he was at Texas Tech. When I think of Dick Butkus or Ray Nitschke and Jack Lambert as the greatest inside linebackers in history, then, no, Zach doesn't belong. But I'm willing to listen to any evidence from anybody that can convince me that Zach has Hall of Fame credentials. Right off the bat, my initial thought for Zach going into the Hall of Fame is 'No,' when compared to the other guys, but I've said that before and changed my mind during the five years before he's eligible. I'm open-minded."
The project was put together to celebrate the 75th draft, which begins April 22. NFL.com editors got us started by narrowing each team's list of candidates down to the top 10.
Fans can vote through April 18 at NFL.com. Parts of the list will be revealed on NFL.com and the NFL Network beginning April 19. The top 10 will be saved for the draft telecast.
These 20 players, listed in alphabetical order, have received the most votes so far:
- Troy Aikman, Dallas Cowboys (first overall, 1989)
- Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh Steelers (first, 1970)
- Tom Brady, New England Patriots (199th, 2000)
- Jim Brown, Cleveland Browns (sixth, 1957)
- Dick Butkus, Chicago Bears (third, 1965)
- Brett Favre, Atlanta Falcons (33rd, 1991)
- Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens (26th, 1996)
- Ronnie Lott, San Francisco 49ers (eighth, 1981)
- Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts (first, 1998)
- Dan Marino, Miami Dolphins (27th, 1983)
- Joe Montana, San Francisco 49ers (82nd, 1979)
- Randy Moss, Minnesota Vikings (21st, 1998)
- Walter Payton, Chicago Bears (fourth, 1975)
- Jerry Rice, San Francisco 49ers (16th, 1985)
- Barry Sanders, Detroit Lions (third, 1989)
- Deion Sanders, Atlanta Falcons (fifth, 1989)
- Mike Singletary, Chicago Bears (38th, 1981)
- Emmitt Smith, Dallas Cowboys (17th, 1990)
- Lawrence Taylor, New York Giants (second, 1981)
- Rod Woodson, Pittsburgh Steelers (10th, 1987)
Of everything I wrote this week, nothing generated a passionate response like the item that pointed out a vulnerability in the Miami Dolphins' single-wing offensive package.
The Wildcat, which the Dolphins introduced in their 38-13 victory over the New England Patriots last Sunday, involves a direct shotgun snap to tailback Ronnie Brown to run, hand off or pass. Ricky Williams, as a wingback, comes in high-speed motion at the snap for a possible handoff. Quarterback Chad Pennington splits wide as a receiver.
In this formation, the quarterback no longer is protected as a passer normally would be. On run plays, a defender can manhandle him as a potential blocker. On pass plays, the defender can jam him at the line.
I noted that exposing such a high-priced, integral player would give defenses a chance to make a statement. Sounded logical to me, and Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano admitted to me such tactics were a concern.
Kevin in Steamboat Springs, Colo., writes: Tim, why wouldn't Miami just have the QB run straight out of bounds? Line up wide as possible, therefore taking a DB or someone out there with you then just step out of bounds. Dude can't you come up with something better to stop this play?
Tim Graham: The quarterback certainly could run out of bounds, and that's one of the responses Sparano advocates for Pennington if he finds himself in danger. I didn't write that jacking the quarterback would stop the play from being effective. I wrote that it would be a reason to deter teams from calling the play. If, while the tailback is running for a 15-yard gain, the quarterback is picking grass out of his facemask, then you have to evaluate whether you want to keep running it.
Chris in Seoul writes: That is a pretty mean spirited thing to suggest. Thoughts like that are what take away from the beauty of this game. I can't believe that you actually wroite that as a legitimate way to plan a defense.
Tim Graham: And auto racing fans think crashes detract from the race, and hockey fans avert their eyes when a fight breaks out. There's a reason backgammon isn't played in a 75,000-seat stadium.
Mr. Anonymous from Parts Unknown writes: Tim Graham. You are a piece of trash for writing this article. This is exactly why the NFL hate people like you as do I. I'm not in it to see players hurt on purpose, but then I have a conscience. I guess you don't or you wouldn't make an asinine comment about destroying the QB lined up as a receiver. May your own advice come back and haunt you, you pathetic excuse for a writer.
Tim Graham writes: Nowhere in my story did I write that a defender should hit the quarterback illegally or that it was acceptable to purposely injure a player. But making an opponent feel pain is a fundamental aspect of the game.
Former Dolphins guard and future Hall of Famer Bob Kuechenberg said this to me a few weeks ago, when I asked him if players would go after Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman's injured knee:
You have to go after it. You've got to do what's best for your team. You've go to do your job.
You may not say exactly "Go at his knees." But if the player has a weak link, that's what you have to attack.
I remember Dick Butkus was pretty limp, dragging his knee pretty badly the only time I got an opportunity to play him. It was late in his career. We were champions already, and the Bears were pretty bad. Everybody knew we were going to win by a big margin, and he was my brother Rudy's roommate. So when we were watching films, you could see that if you wanted to own Butkus, you took him out at the knee. But I told myself "Nope. I'm not going to go high. I'm going to take him on like a man." The first time I tried that it wasn't very enjoyable. Every play after that I was going right for that knee.
Football's a tough game. It's his body, and may God's will be done.
This sort of philosophy, championed by NFL Films for years, is a substantial reason why football is so popular. You can almost hear John Facenda reading Kuechenberg's quote with "Up She Rises" playing in the background.