A $200,000 degree from Stanford is worth more than just its four years of tuition, scholarships or sheepskin diploma. It’s also a network. The vines of that interconnected network carries over to all career fields, including the NFL.
Former Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh’s practice squad and roster has become an oasis for former Cardinal student-athletes. Some make it to the active roster while others toil on the practice squad, but at least it’s an opportunity to keep many of them on the radar.
Stanford isn’t the only program that operates as an unofficial brotherhood for its alumni. It may reek of cronyism, but as long as they’re capable of performing the duties requested of them, nobody asks questions. Nor should they.
One of 53 roster spots is important, but it’s not like being appointed head of FEMA or Jerry Jones’ apparent nepotism in employing four members of the Garrett clan since 2004, including one as his head coach.
After Jonathan Martin was drafted in 2012, he replaced center Matt Kopa as the Stanford football representative on the Miami Dolphins roster. In retrospect, Kopa’s presence would have come in handy for Martin as a support system.
Martin stormed out of the Dolphins facility on October 28th, hasn’t returned since and probably never will. Feeling alienated in the locker room, Martin checked into a hospital under emotional distress and kicked off one of the most shameful sagas in franchise history.
Like Kopa three years prior, Stanford safety Michael Thomas was claimed off of waivers by Miami after serving on Jim Harbaugh’s practice squad for nearly two years.
By now you may have heard one of Thomas’ emotional postgame interviews. However, something he said on Monday piqued our attention.
Apparently, Martin were more than just nondescript teammates at Stanford. They were tighter than Kid ‘n Play in school.
''Jonathan was one of my best friends at Stanford. I looked up to Jon,'' Thomas told the media on Tuesday. "So he texted me right after the game. He [said], 'He sees me and congrats.' That's it. That means a lot. I looked up to Jon when he got drafted in the second round and all his hard work he put in at Stanford."
After his experience in Miami, those Stanford connections became even more significant to him. What was supposed to be a conciliatory gesture for one of Martin’s Stanford brothers became so much more. Instead, Thomas was thrust into a defensive back role sharing gloves with Mike Wallace after starting corners Brent Grimes and Nolan Carroll went down. By Sunday night, he was a feel-good story and the public relations narrative surrounding Philbin and the Dolphins had taken a complete 180.
The image of Dolphins teammates spontaneously embracing a Stanford grad in the end zone was cathartic after their rocky November.
As Brady marched the offense down the field towards the game-winning touchdown, the Dolphins used two timeouts so that defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle and assistant coach Blue Adams could give Thomas a crash course in their defensive coverage schemes.
It’s worth noting that defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo held the same position at Purdue while Adams was a graduate assistant there in his first season learning the coaching ropes after retiring from the NFL.
By now, you may have seen the two plays that changed the course of Miami’s season.
On first and 10 from the Miami 19, Brady took a quick three-step drop after taking the shotgun snap and dropped a parabolic pass into the hands of Danny Amendola who had it knocked out by Thomas before he could reel it down to his chest. Then, on fourth and 5, he picked off Brady’s throw to Austin Collie.
Thomas probably never would have been given the opportunity if the Dolphins weren’t so desperate to ameliorate their relationship with Martin before he ratted on how high up Incognito’s ‘Code Red’ order came.
Philbin denied being aware of Martin’s hazing, but conflicting reports claim that at the very least offensive line coach Jim Turner sicced Incognito on Martin.
Was Thomas’ signing a quid pro quo exchange or blackmail? We speculate, you decide.
Either way, the entire situation worked out better than either the Martin party or the Dolphins could have imagined. On Monday, Richie Incognito’s second interview regarding the hazing investigation with NFL-appointed investigator Ted Wells was canceled.
Thomas was an adequate defensive back at Stanford, but at 5-11 and 182 pounds, he is extremely undersized to play his native position at safety. There were a litany of safeties the Dolphins could have signed, including veteran free agent Kerry Rhodes who is out of options at this point in his season and career (although his case pops the lid off of another larger conspiracy theory of its own),. But it’s no coincidence they chose Thomas. Martin has the goods on Philbin and general manager Jeff Ireland, and he's leveraging it to help his Stanford boys. What's next? Do they draft linebacker Shayne Skov in May?
All Thomas needed was a chance and it was provided to him on Sunday. On his way out of Miami, Martin greased the skids for Thomas to discover an opportunity for an active role on an NFL roster. After snagging the game-clinching interception, an emotional Thomas laid on his back clutching the football in his hands and staring into the clouds towards his guardian angel.
Most prayers go unanswered. Thomas unknowingly received a text from the man responsible for answering his after the game.