Andy Cohen: A Deserving Trio Added To Honor Roll

Posted Aug 10, 2012

A great defensive mind. Two great defensive players. One thing’s for sure: Nobody is going to move the ball very easily on the Dolphin Honor Roll.

How appropriate that the Dolphins have decided to honor Bill Arnsparger, Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas this season with their names joining so much other greatness on the stadium wall. In the long history of this franchise, there may not have been three people with a more significant impact on the defensive side of the ball.

How equally appropriate that Taylor and Thomas are entering together. Close friends. Brother-in-laws. Stars from the same era. Clearly, from my view, the two most dominating defensive players to ever wear a Dolphins uniform.

First, there was Arnsparger. The mad scientist who could concoct a defensive game plan like nobody else. The No-Names were his defense. The Killer B’s had a lot to do with him as well. Don Shula gets a lot of credit for a lot of different things. But he’ll be the first to tell you that so much of his success in coaching is because of Arnsparger.

Then, there is Taylor and Thomas. Or is it Thomas and Taylor? Does it really matter? Sacks. Fumbles. Interceptions. Game-changing plays. Taylor and Thomas built resumes that were as impressive as they were convincing.

It is a shame, really, that Taylor and Thomas never got a chance to play for Arnsparger. The three deserved one another. They would have thrived together. As diverse as Taylor and Thomas were, as talented as they were in so many ways, you just know that Arnsparger would have thought of more schemes to take advantage of their many skills. It would have been interesting, to say the least.

  was fortunate to be able to cover Arnsparger in the latter part of his years with the Dolphins. This is when he had the Killer B’s and when he took a group of cerebral players and helped turn them into something special.

See, the thing about Arnsparger you have to understand is that not just any player could prosper in his system. You had to be intelligent. You had to have a variety of skills. You had to be able to grasp the science of defense taught by Arnsparger in a way that very few could.

I remember interviewing safety Glenn Blackwood one day in the early 1980s. Blackwood was undersized for a safety. Didn’t have great speed. Wasn’t exceptionally big. You looked at him and you thought he sold insurance. I asked Blackwood how with such limited skills he became such a proficient player.

“Arns,” he said. “The man is absolutely brilliant at putting players in the best possible position to succeed.”

I wasn’t around for the 1972 Dolphins. But I do know that it was Arnsparger who helped concoct the “53” defense, who figured out a way to take the skills of linebacker Bob Matheson (No. 53) and reek havoc on an offense. Matheson would stand up and rush. He would move to a three-point stance and have the same success. He would drop back in coverage. In many ways, Matheson was the prototypical Arnsparger defensive player.

Arsnparger went on to a head coaching career in college and even dabbled in college administration. But whenever I spoke to him during those years, I always got the impression that he’d rather be sitting in a defensive room with a bunch of wide-eyed players, putting together a new scheme, a plan of attack that would confound even the most skilled offense.

 “It really isn’t about me,” he once said in the early 1980’s, “it’s about my player.”

Truth is, it was about Arnsparger. All about Arnsparger. And his players would be the first to tell you that.

As for Jason Taylor, a spot on the Honor Roll is probably the first of several post-career honors that will come his way. If he isn’t a sure thing to someday make it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he is certainly a serious candidate.

 t is really a no-brainer to place his name on the stadium wall. You list the best defensive players in team history and many names come to mind: From the 70’s, there was linebacker Nick Buoniconti, defensive end Bill Stanfill and safeties Dick Anderson and Jake Scott; from the 80’s you’ve got to include defensive end Doug Betters, nose tackle Bob Baumhower and linebackers John Offerdahl and A.J. Duhe.

As good as all of those players were – and they were really good – none of them could compare to Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas. It wasn’t just their raw ability. It was their tenaciousness, their hearts, their minds and their burning desire to be the best.

How many players in the history of this team has, on the same play, sacked the quarterback, forced a fumble, recovered the fumble and returned it for a touchdown? That was all Jason Taylor.

Then there was Thomas. Supposed to be too small. Supposed to be too fragile. An unheralded fifth-round pick. All he did was make plays. Make them from sideline to sideline. He was the leader, the player who set the tempo. So many big plays stand out. An interception. A key tackle. A one-on-one collision. You needed it and Zach delivered. How about the time he picked off a pass and somersaulted into the end zone? A truly unique player and a total joy to be around.

Thomas played 12 seasons for the Dolphins and finished his career with 1,737 tackles and 17 interceptions. Not a bad fifth-round pick.

Arnsparger, Taylor and Thomas. Three important names in the history of this franchise. Three people who richly deserve to have a spot on the Honor Roll. Like I said, I just wish we could have seen the impact the three of them might have had working together on the same defense.
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