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the football Beat
Peter King
November 05, 2001
WORD ASSOCIATIONWith Zach Thomas, the Dolphins' undersized Pro Bowl linebacker
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November 05, 2001

The Football Beat

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WORD ASSOCIATION
With Zach Thomas, the Dolphins' undersized Pro Bowl linebacker

SI: Jimmy Johnson.
Thomas: Best coach. My favorite coach. I owe him for picking me in the fifth round when everyone said I was too small [5'11"], and starting me over an established player, Jack Del Rio.

SI: Overcoming obstacles.
Thomas: I grew up on a farm. When I was 2�, a truck ran over me. My hearing was affected by that, so I learned to read lips. In college [at Texas Tech] I got a couple plays off the Rice coach reading his lips. I had some learning disability, and I had to work hard so I wouldn't be the dumb kid everyone laughed at in school.

SI: Size.
Thomas: If I were 6'2", 245, I wouldn't be in the league. I would not have worked as hard as I did.

SI: NFL highlight.
Thomas: Standing on the sideline before my first game, in 1996. Tears coming down my face. Thinking, Man, I made it!

SI: New York Jets.
Thomas: I love New York, but I hate the Jets. Losing seven in a row to them means one thing: They're in our heads. One bad play, we go in the tank.

SI: Your motivation.
Thomas: Trying to prove everyone wrong who said I couldn't do it. I've been that way my whole life, but failure's my biggest fear.

MATCH GAME
Broncos vs. Raiders: Oakland is the better team, but Denver has its number
The Broncos have won II of the last 12 in the series and are 6-0 since Jon Gruden began prowling the Oakland sideline. Two things should work in the Raiders' favor on Monday night: the absences of Ed McCaffrey and Greg Robinson. McCaffrey, out with a broken leg, has averaged 6.2 catches a game against Gruden's Raiders and always took advantage of his seven-inch height edge over cornerback Eric Allen. Robinson, the defensive coordinator who was pushed out after the 2000 season, gave Gruden's offense fits with odd blitzes and nine-man fronts. Under Gruden the Raiders have averaged only 18.8 points a game against Denver, 6.1 points fewer than they've averaged against everyone else. This should be Oakland's night. Of course, it has looked like Oakland's night going into a lot of games in this series.

HISTORY BOOK
Nov. 3, 1979: After quitting football for boxing, Too Tall Jones makes an inauspicious ring debut
Early in 1979 Cowboys defensive end Ed (Too Tall) Jones decided to do what he'd longed to try ever since he was a youngster sitting on his father's lap, listening to title fights on the radio: He quit football for the ring. "I didn't think I'd play football again," the 6'9" Jones recalled last week. Jones moved to New York City and trained with lightweight Ray (Boom Boom) Mancini. In his first bout Jones faced heavyweight Yaqui Meneses in Las Cruces, N.Mex. He won a split decision but not the respect of the boxing press after chasing Meneses around the ring. "He chose to run," Jones says. "I hadn't learned to cut off the ring yet." After building a 6-0 mark against tomato cans, the 274-pound Jones returned to football in 1980 and the next year played in his first of three straight Pro Bowls. Jones, who retired in 1989, says he has no regrets about his foray into boxing. "I've never been as excited as I was when I stepped into the ring."

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