April 2007. A young boy sits in his living room on the edge of his couch cushion in anticipation, waiting for Roger Goodell to announce who the Browns drafted third overall. The boy is a Notre Dame fan, and praying Cleveland chooses the hometown kid Brady Quinn to be their quarterback of the future. The bell rings, the room falls silent…
The boy was crushed. “A left tackle?? What the fuck?? HOW COULD THEY NOT PICK BRADY??” Little did he know, that would be the worst Browns take the boy would ever have.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, that boy was me. I remember so vividly watching this draft wondering how the Browns could take this big lineman from Wisconsin over my golden boy golden domer with perfect hair. But to their credit, it’s the most right this organization has been this millennium. We didn’t deserve someone like Joe, we still don’t.
He was the consummate professional. He played every game to the best of his ability, and regularly dominated any edge rusher that dared to face him 1 on 1. Here are some of the things Joe accomplished in his time in Cleveland:
- 2nd in Rookie of the Year voting behind Adrian Peterson
- 10 Pro Bowl appearances in 11 seasons
- 1 of 15 players to make a Pro Bowl in each of his first six seasons
- The second Brown other than Jim Brown to make the Pro Bowl in their first 7 seasons
- Consistently voted a top 25 NFL player by other players in the league despite the Browns’ incompetence
- Played 10,363 consecutive snaps, the only player to do so in the history of the league
But while his accomplishments and accolades on the field are incredible, what was more important to we in the Dawg Pound was how he was off the field. By all accounts Joe was a great teammate, and even better person. In an era defined by super teams and leaving to win rings, Joe stayed in Cleveland despite the black hole of talent and coaching in which he constantly had to combat. He believed in Cleveland even though this organization never gave him a reason to.
Joe Thomas will go into the Hall of Fame with a lower winning percentage than any Hall of Famer before him (48-128, 37.5%). He will also have blocked for the most quarterbacks of any Hall of Fame lineman (21). But it brings a smile to my face to know that when I take my kid to the Hall of Fame someday and we look at Joe’s bust, I’ll be able to teach them a lesson that as long as you’re doing what you love and doing it right, that brilliance will always outshine the failures.
A lot of people have been joking that the expectation in Cleveland is so low, that a QB that wins 5 games in a season will get a statue outside First Energy. But if any man is to to be idolized and immortalized as a representation of this organization, it’s Joe Thomas.
So here’s to you Joe. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for being the one guy we could always count on, and proving that boy from ten years ago wrong.