Taking advantage of his opportunity
“Mama, I did it! I did it!”
Michael Thomas yelled it over and over, but no one really heard him. They were too busy jumping on him, slapping him, and celebrating. Others were screaming so loudly that the roar in the stadium drowned out anything the ecstatic, but overwhelmed, Thomas was yelling. He cried, too, but who noticed or cared?
That was Sunday afternoon, and Thomas had found himself not only living his dream but playing the role of hero. The cause for the celebration was that Thomas had just made a game-saving pass interception in the end zone to give the Miami Dolphins an upset victory over the long-time NFL powerhouse New England Patriots, and the interception had come against one of the great quarterbacks in league history, Tom Brady.
The play was enough drama in itself, but how it came to be made it even more special. You see, until Sunday Michael Thomas had never played in an NFL game, and he had entered the game on defense as a cornerback rather than his usual position of safety only five minutes before corralling the dramatic pass interception. Plus, he had been on the team such a short time that not all the team members knew his full name and his coach in an TV post-game interview seemed not to remember his name.
Earlier in the week, Thomas had been a member of the San Francisco practice squad as a safety. His dream was to make the roster of an NFL team. He had spent all of last season and so far this season on the 49ers’ practice squad. Monday morning he slept in late after San Francisco’s Sunday night game. When he finally awoke at 10:20 a.m., he discovered four calls on his cell phone from his agent and a text message saying, “WAKE UP! There is a team that wants you. If you don’t wake up soon, they’re going to move on.” He called his agent and was told that Miami was offering him a spot on it 53-man roster. The Holy Grail was within reach. He made a 2:30 flight out of San Fran and arrived in Miami.
On Tuesday he began working with Dolphins’ assistant defensive backs coach Blue Adams, but he took no defensive snaps in practice all week. However, he said it became clear that he would have an opportunity to play on special teams. His dream was coming true. He was on a team roster and would play in a game.
But it was more than just a game to the Miami Dolphins. Miami had not beaten the Patriots in the last seven tries. Now, a win would be a big boost in the team’s battle to earn a spot in the upcoming NFL playoffs. And Thomas was part of this.
On Sunday, he played on two special teams units and made a tackle on a punt play. Then, in the fourth quarter, cornerbacks Nolan Carroll and Brent Grimes went down with injuries. The Dolphins needed a cornerback, but Thomas was a safety. He had played safety at Stanford and in practice for the 49ers. But, with only five minutes to play, Miami need a cornerback, not a safety.
“You want your opportunity?” Coach Adams said. “It’s time.”
After the game, Thomas commented in a phone interview, “I was pretty emotional. I was going out there knowing Tom Brady was coming after me.”
He was right. On the first play, Brady threw to the receiver Thomas was covering for a gain of 11 yards. The next play, Brady came Thomas’ way again, but for only two yards this time.
Unfamiliar with playing the position, Thomas depended on teammate Reshad Jones, a safety, to tell him what to do, where to go and whom to cover. With 27 seconds left and New England on Miami’s 19-yard-line, Jones nodded toward Danny Amendola, one of Brady’s favorite receivers, and alerted Thomas, “You got no help.” Thomas ran with Amendola and, sure enough, the pass was to him. It sailed over Thomas’ head and toward Amendola’s hands. Thomas had learned long ago as a defensive back to play through the receiver’s hands. Trailing Amendola, he reached in and did his best to disrupt the catch. He succeeded in knocking the ball away. No touchdown.
But the game wasn’t over. Three plays later, it was fourth down from the 14 and time for one last play. This time, Thomas was one of two Dolphins in the coverage. He jumped and snared the ball. That was when he fell to the ground, yelling, “Mama, I did it!”
After the game, Thomas said, “I am overwhelmed. It is so much to realize, how my life has changed and how this happened. Tom Brady throwing at me, and I answered the call. The only thing I can say is I am blessed.”
Michael Thomas realized his dream of making an NFL roster and then succeeded in a dramatic way when opportunity arose. Not all of us will have the opportunity for something that dramatic, but almost all of us have a dream we would like to realize. Certainly, when that dream opportunity arises, we want to succeed.
But lest we allow opportunity to slip by, let’s remember that the dream for us won’t be a matter of being lucky any more than it was with Michael Thomas. Some would contend that Thomas was lucky, at least quite fortunate, to get the opportunity to play for the Dolphins and then be in a key situation. I would agree that he was in the right place at the right time, but it was not solely a matter of luck.
First, Thomas had to work hard at developing his skills. He had to play the game for several years and then continue to work and practice as a member of the 49ers’ practice squad for almost two years. In other words, he worked for and prepared for the opportunity he dreamed of getting. Had he not done so, he would never have been in position to make a team and then make a dream play.
In the Book of Proverbs in the Bible, we are warned about being slothful or lazy and that those who are will not succeed. Had Thomas not been willing to work hard, he would not have been in position to succeed. Actually, one moment of extra time in bed almost cost him his opportunity. A few more minutes of sleep and the Dolphins would have signed someone else.
Michael Thomas had his moment, but it was one he had prepared for. When the moment arrives for you and me, will we have prepared for it? Or, will it slip by while we complain about how unlucky we are?