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Former Miami Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas has selected former coach Jimmy Johnson to be his presenter at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement ceremony Aug. 5 in Canton, OH.
The enshrinement ceremony will celebrate the 2023 class of Ronde Barber, Don Coryell, Joe Thomas, DeMarcus Ware, Darrelle Revis, Joe Klecko, Ken Riley, Chuck Howley, and Zach Thomas.
The Hall of Fame informed Thomas recently he would be the first Hall of Famer enshrined among the Class of 2023. So Johnson’s presentation and the Thomas speech are first on the program that Saturday. That could be seen as a tough assignment.
“It’s an honor,” Thomas told OutKick.
Zach Thomas, Jimmy Johnson Go Way Back
The fact Thomas asked Johnson to present him makes perfect sense. Johnson drafted Thomas in the fifth-round of the 1996 NFL draft. And Johnson delivered the news to Thomas he was selected in January to enter the Hall of Fame.
Johnson also promoted Thomas to Miami’s starting middle linebacker after one preseason game the summer of ’96 when others wondered if Thomas would even make the team as a rookie playing special teams.
That kicked off a career that included five All-Pro first-team honors and seven Pro Bowl selections for Thomas.
“He gave me the chance,” Thomas said explaining why he asked Johnson. “He’s the one that put me in the starting lineup even though I was a guy who didn’t fit the part. I was the 154th pick and I was small, man, so I’m sure everyone was questioning what was he doing?
“But he believed in me, man, and I didn’t want to let him down. I just wanted to prove him right and it played out perfect.”
Zach Thomas went from fifth-rounder to HOF
Johnson was a new Dolphins head coach in 1996, succeeding Don Shula.
Johnson back then talked of authoring a new legacy for the franchise that had lived on the fuel of consecutive Super Bowl titles in 1972-73 and 1973-74.
Thomas fit seamlessly into Johnson’s desire to start anew.
“It played out perfect because of the timing,” Thomas said. “He was a new coach and he was bringing in his own guys his first year so I know that helped. I was so blessed with the timing part of it.”
It’s been 27 years since Johnson drafted Thomas. And the two haven’t necessarily been close but they’ve definitely remained connected. Thomas has visited Johnson’s home in the Florida Keys several times to go fishing.
“I’ve been down there a few times to go fishing with him and sometimes we never made it fishing,” Thomas laughed. “We never got past his tiki hut in the back, telling stories, and having some cold beers.”
Jimmy Johnson Has Presented Previously
Johnson, a Hall of Fame inductee in 2020, previously served as presenter for former Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor.
Induction speeches this year are expected to be limited to 10-12 minutes for television broadcast purposes and that will definitely not be enough time for Thomas or any other enshrinee to thank everyone.
“It’s hard to hit everybody,” Thomas said. “I’m going to reach out to certain people. There will be certain people that don’t get their name thrown out there, but I’m going to write them when I have the time.”
Thomas will obviously be mentioning his family. And that’s when his speech is likely to be most emotional.
“I definitely don’t want to be tearing up,” he said, “but when I talk about family, I might be tearing up a little bit.”
The Hall of Fame presentation won’t be the first or last assignment Thomas has during the 2023 season. He is expected to be at Dolphins training camp the week of his induction. And the club will celebrate that induction during the week of team’s home game against the Carolina Panthers on Oct. 15 and at that game as well.