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.
Many long-time Dolphins fans may associate the jersey with a colorful, popular, undersized linebacker – and we aren’t talking about Zach Thomas; we will get to him soon enough. But the first person to wear #54 was “Wahoo” McDaniel (1966-68) who was picked by the Dolphins in the 1966 expansion draft as the first “name” player in franchise history. He received notoriety two years earlier with the New York Jets as a whirling dervish tackling machine at linebacker who became an immediate fan favorite. When the Dolphins picked him in the expansion draft, he received more attention than any other player they selected in that draft. His initial popularity in Miami was so great that he became the first (and to date the only) Dolphins player to have his first name – “Wahoo” – and not his last one, like everyone else, embroidered on the back of his game jersey. Alas, his play on the field didn’t match his hype off it. He did lead the Dolphins with 118 tackles in 1967, but lost his starting job the next season and was traded after that to the San Diego Chargers but never played a game for them. However, McDaniel used his football fame to start a wrestling career, and was so successful there he eventually was elected to the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame. Perhaps in retribution, for the next 28 years only one player lasted more than two seasons wearing that jersey, linebacker E.J. Junior (1989-91), who was a starter his first year with the Dolphins after a stellar career with the St. Louis Cardinals. Finally, Zach Thomas (1996-2007) took possession of the jersey in 1996 and wore it with distinction for the next 12 seasons. Like Wahoo, he also became a fan favorite off the field, but unlike him also produced effusively on it. He played and started more games than any Dolphins
defender in team history except for Jason Taylor, and recorded 100 or more tackles 11 times while leading the team in tackles in all but one of those seasons. His seven Pro Bowl selections are the most (along with Richmond Webb) by any Dolphins player except for Dan Marino and he was elected to the team’s Honor Roll (along with Taylor, his brother-in-law who is married to Katina, Zach’s sister) in 2012. Like Webb, Thomas finished his NFL career with another team (the Dallas Cowboys) but signed a ceremonial one-day free agent contract on May 20, 2010 to retire as a Dolphins player. While the number hasn’t been formally retired, no player on the team has worn the jersey since then - except once, and that created a firestorm. Earlier in 2010, # 54 was assigned to rookie linebacker A.J. Edds because there were no other numbers in the 50s (as per NFL regulations for linebackers) available to him. The controversy that immediately erupted in the wake of that assignment forced a change and Edds was soon switched to # 49. No player has worn the jersey ever since.
The complete list of Dolphins who have worn #54 includes McDaniel (1966-68); Bob Bruggers (1968); Dale McCullers (1969); Ted Davis (1970); Howard Kindig (1972-73); Ralph Ortega (1979-80); Steve Potter (1981-82); Rodell Thomas (1983-84); Alex Moyer (1985-86); Johnny Taylor (1986); *Steve Lubischer (1987); Larry Kolic (1987-88); Junior (1989-91); Chuck Bullough (1993-94); and Thomas (1996-07).
Tomorrow: For perhaps the only time in NFL history, a defense was named after a jersey number - “53.” Can you name the player who caused that defense to be named after that number?
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