My name is Dave, and I write for the Sixers site, Liberty Ballers. I’m a 29 year old man still trapped in the 1990s. When I’m not leaving long-winded voicemails with Third Eye Blind lyrics on my wife’s phone, I’m updating Sharone Wright’s Wikipedia page.
These are my stories.
Name: William Thomas
Tra Thomas, Dave?: No, the other William Thomas
College: Texas A&M
Eagles Tenure: 1991-1999
Nickname: Willie T
Semi-Believable WIP Phone Call from 1995:
Hey Jody, first time, long time. Just wanted to get your thoughts on maybe trying out Willie T at tight end? Just don’t think Jimmie Johnson is getting the job done. Rhodes needs to create a spark. Imma hang up and listen.
A 4th Round pick from Texas A & M, William Thomas played linebacker for the Birds from 1991 through 1999. He was a Philadelphia staple in the 90’s, like ECW on the Sports Channel or a Clarence Weatherspoon pump fake. Out of a possible 144 regular season games during that time frame, Thomas played in 142. It was easily the most publicized consecutive games played streak in the 1990s.
He was affectionately known as Willie T.
Willie T was always smack dab in the thick of things. As the legend goes, he once recovered a fumble in Phoenix, while simultaneously performing magic tricks for a delighted crowd in the downstairs bar at Finnegan’s Wake. When asked about this feat, Willie T slyly replied, “It’s magic.”
Googling “William Thomas Eagles Football Card” is like a who’s who of 90’s quarterbacks.
Is that Steve Walsh? That must be Steve Walsh. I’d recognize those quads anywhere. Thomas was a menace in opposing backfields. He was active in coverage, disrupting passing lanes like a young Pepe Sanchez. And he looked the part, too. He rocked these larger than life shoulder pads, like he had tucked two airplane pillows into his jersey.
“Willie, you using both of those pillows? Yeah? Ok, it’s no big deal, really. It’s just that, my neck is a bit, you know, it’s kind of a long flight to New Zealand. “
In 1995, Thomas picked off seven balls on his way to a Pro Bowl berth. Six of those interceptions came at the expense of NFC East rivals, the Cardinals and the Giants. Now, those 1995 Giants were led by “Run, Run, Run, Punt” Dan Reeves, and quarterback, Dave Brown. Throw in a splash of Tommy Maddux, and it was like the holy trinity of ineptitude. The Brown/Maddux quarterback controversy split the boroughs of New York at the seams. Relationships ended. Life-changing friendships formed. Everyone had an opinion.
I was actually fortunate enough to get my hands on a recorded conversation from August 1995 that took place in Hoboken, NJ. A conversation which I’m happy to transcribe for you today.
“We gotta go with Dave Brown. We gotta! He knows Reeves’ system. He knows the playbook!“
Ma! You’re wrong, ma! You’re wrong! We gotta give the keys to Maddux. He has the intangibles. The intangibles, ma!
William Thomas had an unspoken chemistry with both signal callers. If Willie T was open in the flat, then Tommy Maddux found him. If Willie T found some daylight in the middle of the field, then ‘Ol Five Fingers Brown hit ‘em between the numbers. In one particularly ugly 17-14 Eagles win over the Giants, Tommy Maddux went 6-23 for 49 yards and three picks, which is like .0026 yards per pass attempt.
(Fast forward to the 3:44 mark for NFL Primetime highlights. Come for the highlights, stay for the Ray Rhodes Starter jacket).
Now, Pro-Football Reference says that Thomas only had two career interceptions off of Tommy Maddux, but that’s because Pro-Football Reference is lying. I like to defer to the old reliable eye test in these situations. My memory is still sharp as a tack. If I can rattle off every WWF Tag Team Champ from 1985 to 1995 … in order (I see you over there, Men on a Mission), then recalling Thomas’ picks off the Giants is child play. All we Willie T Truthers out there know the correct answer is 71.
71 career interceptions against the Giants.
Dave Brown: 34
Tommy Maddux: 18
Phil Simms: 6
Jeff Hostetler: 4
Kent Graham: 9
Danny Kanell: 0. That Danny Kanell sure valued the football, what can I say.
William Thomas and the Giants quarterback de jour were attached at the hip. They were arguably one of the most influential tandems from my childhood, just ahead of my mom and dad, and right behind Eisenreich/Chamberlain.
After nine seasons with the Birds, Thomas signed with the Oakland Raiders before retiring in 2001. In 2006, Willie T found his name in the headlines after Eagles offensive lineman, William “Tra” Thomas, requested to be referred to by his birth name. And while the Eagles employed two very productive players named William Thomas, they’re still searching for just one half-decent Nate Allen.
So today, remember William Thomas. Willie T. He survived the Kotite and Rhodes years. And as we can attest, that’s no small feat.
You can follow Dave on Twitter at @wheresbenrivera