Two months ago we asked Hall-of-Fame finalist Kevin Mawae who was the tougher linebacker to block -- Ray Lewis or Brian Urlacher -- and he surprised us by saying Urlacher. But he didn't stop there. The former center then went on to say former Miami linebacker Zach Thomas gave him more trouble than Lewis.
And that didn't surprise us. It floored us.
Because even though Thomas was an all-decade choice, along with first-teamers Urlacher and Lewis, he's not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and has not been a Hall-of-Fame finalist. In fact, he's never been a semifinalist in his six years of eligibility.
But Mawae didn't care. He was asked who gave him the most trouble, and he was honest - saying Thomas was "a bigger challenge" than Lewis. So when we caught up with Thomas on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast, we passed on the message. And, like us, he was overwhelmed -- not only because he calls Lewis "the greatest ever" but because the accolade came from an opponent he believes should already be in Canton.
"He says you were tougher for him to block than Ray Lewis," we told Thomas.
"I don't know about that," he said, "because Kevin was a beast. I tell you, that's respect right there. And that's what I played the game for ... and I got it when I played on the field. And I understand with linemen ... (but) he's overlooked because he's the best player on an offensive line I've ever faced. And he had got the best of me a bunch of those games. So he's being a little humble about all that."
A first-team all-decade center, Mawae has been eligible for the Hall of Fame for four years and been a finalist the past two. But he's been a Top-10 finalist the past two, so he has the arrow pointed in the right direction. And that's good ... not only for Mawae but for one of his biggest supporters, Zack Thomas -- who, when he was with Miami, faced Mawae twice each season when the Jets and Dolphins met.
"I feel like a guy like that ... not being in first ballot? Aw, man, I just wish a lot of the writers ... I wish they knew what players and teammates and all that knew of that guy," he said. "Because when you got a center ... most of the time most offenses are driven where their main guy and their energy comes from their quarterback. But it came from the center with him.
"And that's respect right there. And I respect that guy, and that's awesome he would say such a thing."