Zach Thomas has a ton of respect for one former New York Jets star
On Dec. 30, 2021, the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced its modern-era finalists for the class of 2022. One of the 15 players named was former Miami Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas.
This week, Thomas was featured on the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s podcast, “The Mission”, where he was asked to name his top five toughest opponents.
From 1998 to 2005, Mawae and Thomas faced off against each other 16 times. It’s easy to see why Thomas would label the matchups against Mawae as “tough”: New York won all but four of those get-togethers, with an eight-game winning streak over the Dolphins coinciding with Mawae’s arrival from Seattle in 1998.
Deep beneath the surface of the heated New York Jets-Miami Dolphins intra-divisional matchups was the rivalry that Mawae and Thomas formed of their own on the gridiron. Over 10 years since retiring, both have showcased mutual respect for one another.
When asked about his toughest opponents in the interview, Thomas swiftly responded:
“Kevin Mawae. The guy was the quarterback of the offense, man. And he was a great leader.”
Famously, Mawae was one of the best-pulling offensive linemen of all time. For obvious reasons, Thomas did not enjoy that part of his game, but in the interview, he did go on to add just how difficult it was to face Mawae in particular for that reason.
“Kevin could pull behind the line of scrimmage and meet me in the alley,” said Thomas. “It’s hard to pull around full speed and be in front of a running back and get turned square. Usually, I could throw guys if they ever tried that. Dermontti Dawson was good at it too, but Kevin could meet me around there, and he threw me out of the club a few times, man.”
Jokingly, Thomas added, “He’s probably one of the reasons I’m not in first ballot, in the Hall of Fame.”
In 2019, Mawae was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, where he gave Thomas his props while giving his induction speech. Many have vied for Thomas to be inducted as well over the years, but nobody quite as much as his bitter rival during one of the biggest moments of his own career.
“Zach Thomas was my nemesis,” said Mawae. “My first year with the Jets before the first game we each played against each other, Bill Parcells told me in front of my entire team, ‘If you don’t block Thomas, we won’t win the game.’ And for the next 16 matchups, I never forgot that.
“Zach was one of, if not, the smartest players I ever faced. He loved the game, he had fun when he played, and he brought the best out of me. When people ask me who’s not in the Hall of Fame, and I think should be here, it’s an easy one for me: Number 54 from the Miami Dolphins.”
There’s no doubt that there was a rivalry between the two greats, but it’s just as clear to see how much they respect each other.
There may be no greater achievement than that of receiving a ringing endorsement from your long-time rival. Both Mawae and Thomas have managed to do just that.