As we tick the days off to the season opener against the Patriots on Sept. 7, each day we highlight the players who wore that particular jersey number during their tenure in Miami. In some cases, the player and jersey number are synonymous. In other cases, the jersey number represents sustained greatness at a particular position. Whatever the case may be, jersey numbers are an important part of the fabric of professional football.
This number was dominated by some pretty good running backs, including one in the Hall of Fame and another who certainly would merit consideration if he played a little longer in the league, but talent alone only illustrates part of the jersey’s history. The first regular to wear it was fullback Woody Bennett (1980-88), who had a productive eight-year career with the Dolphins. He was the team’s leading rusher in 1984, an accomplishment that is overlooked because of Dan Marino’s record setting passing performance that season. Starting with the 1999 season, three of the next four players to wear it (except for Travis Minor in 2001) certainly had unique stories. First came Cecil Collins (1999), who had an outstanding but short-lived college career at LSU, ending when he got kicked off that team. Still Dolphins Head Coach Jimmy Johnson, known to give players second (and at times, third) chances, drafted Collins in the fifth round in ’99. And Collins actually was productive that season, rushing for 414 yards before running into legal trouble again, ending his football career. That was followed by the strange sight of Buffalo Bills great (and Dolphin-killer) Thurman Thomas (2000) wearing the aqua and white. The Hall of Fame running back, who still holds the record for most career yards rushing against the Dolphins, played in nine games for Miami in 2000 after being released by the Bills. He rushed for 136 yards during that time before suffering a knee injury that ultimately ended his career. It’s hard to think of any other player so identified as a rival of the Dolphins who eventually wound up playing for them. The third curious case centered around perhaps the most enigmatic player in Dolphin history, and one of the most talented -- running back Ricky Williams (2002-03, 05, 07, 07-10). His successes on the field and his different approach to the game off it are well documented. Outside of Marino’s record breaking accomplishments in 1984, Williams may have put together the greatest single season offensively in Dolphins history in 2002 when he led the NFL in rushing with 1,853 yards in his first year with the team. The next season he ran for 1,372 yards and no one in Dolphin history has ever come within 100 yards of either of those totals. Despite being a true starter just those two years for the Dolphins (he shared running back duties with Ronnie Brown the rest of his time in Miami) he still ranks as the second most productive runner in Dolphin history, with his career totals trailing all-time leader Larry Csonka by only a few hundred yards. But Dolphin fans also recall the side of Williams that led to interruptions in his career (including leaving the team abruptly right before the start of the 2004 season) to pursue other, non-football pursuits. To this day, no one disputes the fact that Williams had Hall of Fame talent (and it is widely acknowledged that he would have been a lock to make it there if he stuck with the sport), but he also had eclectic interests that diverted his attention from the game and made him one of the most unusual individuals ever to play for the Dolphins.
The complete list of Dolphins who have worn #34 includes Ron Sellers (1973); Jim Braxton (1978); Don Testerman (1980); Woody Bennett (1980-88); Nuu Faaola (1989); Tony Collins (1990); Aaron Craver (1991-93); Tyrone Braxton (1994); Tim Jacobs (1996-97); Ron Moore (1998); Cecil Collins (1999); Thurman Thomas (2000); Travis Minor (2001); Ricky Williams (2002-03, 05, 07-10); and Marcus Thigpen
What Dolphins running back picked in the 1966 expansion draft won “Rookie of the Year” honors only three years earlier and later went on to be inducted as a head coach in the College Football Hall of Fame?
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