Taylor, who retired at the end of last season after a 15-year NFL career (13 with the Dolphins), will be inducted along with Thomas at halftime of Miami’s home game against the St. Louis Rams on October 14th. Thomas retired in May of 2010 after re-signing a one-day contract with the Dolphins. Arnsparger will get his honor at halftime of the Dolphins’ home game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on December 16th, coinciding with the celebration honoring the 40th anniversary of the 1972 undefeated team.
From the moment he joined Shula’s coaching staff in 1970, Arnsparger made a lasting impact and became known around league circles as an innovator on the defensive side of the ball. He always stayed one step ahead of the curve, giving opposing offensive coordinators headaches all the way into the early 1980s.
Arnsparger’s seamless transition from coaching the likes of Hall-of-Famer Nick Buoniconti, Jake Scott, Dick Anderson and Manny Fernandez to that Killer B’s unit with Bob Baumhower, Doug Betters, Kim Bokamper and the Blackwood brothers will be hard to duplicate. Miami’s defense ranked first or second in the league in nine of his 11 seasons on the sideline and Arnsparger’s introduction of the “53” defense served as a precursor of what is now called the zone blitz.
Even after he left the Dolphins following the 1983 season to take over the LSU football program, it was a given that Arnsparger someday would return to the NFL. He coached the San Diego Chargers defense in 1994, helping the team reach its first Super Bowl, and then in 1999 he came out of retirement to serve as a defensive consultant for the Washington Redskins. Arnsparger’s schemes and coaching style are timeless, which is why it would not be considered far-fetched for Taylor to have enjoyed significant success playing for him.
As it was, Taylor was a revolutionary in his own right thanks to his speed and athleticism at the defensive end position. At 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds, Taylor proved to be a mismatch for just about any opposing offensive lineman and his 139.5 career sacks are the sixth most in league history. He recorded 131 of those sacks with Miami, including 18.5 in 2002 and another 13.5 in 2006, the year he was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year.
In 2007, Taylor earned the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award for the outstanding charitable work he did in the South Florida community with his Jason Taylor Foundation. To say that Taylor overachieved would be an understatement for someone taken in the third round of the 1997 NFL Draft with the 73rd overall pick as he retired as the league’s active sack leader.
Taylor began making the transition from traditional defensive end to outside linebacker in that special 2006 season when he lined up as the “Jack” linebacker in Nick Saban’s defense. Not only was he a natural pass rusher, but he also had a knack for making big plays off the line of scrimmage with eight career interceptions. Taylor returned three of those for touchdowns and added six fumble recoveries that he returned for touchdowns, giving him nine TDs for his career. He also recorded three safeties in his career, had 530 career tackles (283 solo) and his 204 games in a Dolphins uniform are second only to Hall-of-Fame quarterback Dan Marino’s 242.
One year before Taylor was taken in the third round – yet another steal by the franchise – Thomas was drafted in the fifth round out of Texas Tech in the 1996 NFL Draft. All he did over his 12 memorable seasons in Miami was make it to seven Pro Bowls and establish himself as one of the most dominant middle linebackers of his era and one of the most durable considering his size (5-11 and 230 pounds).
Thomas returned to his native Texas in 2008 with the Dallas Cowboys and stared 14 of 16 games, racking up 65 tackles (36 solo). He gave it one more try in Kansas City with the Chiefs before calling it a career before the regular season started, still one of the iconic faces of the Miami Dolphins franchise.
The image of Taylor being carried off the field by his teammates this past New Year’s Day after Miami knocked off the New York Jets, 19-17, in his final game will be forever etched in the memories of Dolphins fans. He forced a fumble on that sunny afternoon and returned another for an apparent touchdown only to see it overturned by instant replay. Now he will take his rightful place in the Honor Roll with his brother-in-law and best friend and the franchise’s greatest defensive coach.