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Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist Zach Thomas spent the day before the Hall’s selectors vote on the class of 2022 driving home from a weekend soccer tournament his daughter Valentina played in.
It was a weekend filled with six games followed by a long drive home, made only slightly more tolerable because movies were playing in the backseat for the kids.
So Thomas, who spent 13 years making life difficult for quarterbacks and running backs and NFL offenses in general, was exhausted when he finally got home Monday evening.
And that’s about the first time in days he thought about Tuesday’s vote.
“You know, when somebody comes up to me or people text me all the time and …. they’re constantly talking about the Hall of Fame, that’s when I think about it,” Thomas said from his home in South Florida.
“But this weekend, what I was thinking about was being in a hotel for three nights, going to different soccer games, making sure they had their water jugs, their cleats, their shin guards. That’s pretty much me now. I’m a soccer dad.”
So let’s just agree the man who used to get blisters on his lips thinking about upcoming games during his 13-year playing career has changed a little bit.
“When it comes to this, I think about it at times,” Thomas said, “but when I’m busy with my kids, it’s not really a thought for very long.”
Valentina’s team lost in the semifinals, and Thomas, the true competitor he is, made her walk home as a result.
Kidding. Of course he didn’t.
“I definitely don’t coach her,” Thomas said. “I let the coaches do that. But when it comes to her mindset, I help her out because I want her to love the game and compete. And she’s loving the process. Parents want instant results, but that’s not the process. So she’s found something she loves and wants to play, and that was me.
“I found something I loved.”
The game Thomas loves has him among 15 modern-era finalists for the Hall. There is also a contributor, coaching and senior finalist. And the full slate will be discussed virtually — for the second consecutive year — by the Hall’s 49 selectors.
The selectors will discuss the on-field excellence, contributions and longevity of the finalists before casting a vote that will ultimately help choose up to seven enshrinees.
This vote will help determine the legacy of each finalist.
Thomas has thought about his legacy, and he measures it a little differently than in the number of tackles he made — he had a whopping 1,734 — or some other random statistic.
“My legacy is being a great teammate,” Thomas said. “I’m more proud of that than anything. I felt that was important. When you’re a leader, you do everything right and the right way. I wasn’t the best motivator like getting in front of the defense and all that. But my work and what I did in my preparation was good. I felt for all my teammates going back to high school. It’s just what I knew.
“Even if we disagreed, I’ve never seen one of them talking about me as a bad teammate — a guy not there for the team or a selfish guy. For me, that’s legacy. It’s the relationships you build, but also the respect you earn. And it’s got to be earned.”
This is how important the respect of his teammates matters to Thomas: “If I’m not a Hall of Famer but my teammates respect me, I win. But if it was the other way around and I was a Hall of Famer but I didn’t have that respect from my teammates, I lose.”
Perhaps after Tuesday’s voting, Thomas will be a winner on both counts.
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero