By Nick Shook
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Joe Thomas is moving on from professional football, and he wants you to know that while yes, the frequent losses took their toll, he never lost his sense of humor.
The six-time All-Pro made sure of that Monday by setting the tone of his retirement presser with a litany of playful jabs at a list of men with whom Thomas worked during his career in Cleveland. Among those included: former quarterback Johnny Manziel (“Johnny tried to call me from the club, but his money phone apparently didn’t have very good service”), GM Ray Farmer (a text message joke was made), coach Eric Mangini, GM Sashi Brown (“tried to trade some information with me about my retirement, but unfortunately it didn’t get in in time”), quarterback Brandon Weeden (“he tried to call me but he ended up still being stuck under that giant American flag”) and quarterback Robert Griffin III, on whom Thomas jokingly blamed his retirement. More importantly, Thomas made everyone aware that his career was about more than wins and losses.
The rock of the Browns for more than a decade, Thomas saw his most successful season in terms of team achievement arrive in his first as a professional. The Browns went 10-6 and narrowly missed the playoffs, and didn’t so much as sniff such success for the next 10 years. All the while, though, Thomas remained as effective and reliable as ever, making 10 straight Pro Bowls and amassing a consecutive snap streak of 10,363, even while dealing with a variety of injuries previously undisclosed. For Thomas, it was fitting that he waited until his retirement to admit he was banged up — he never complained, after all.
Perhaps no one in professional sports has done more with less: Thomas, a “surefire Hall of Famer” as Browns owner Jimmy Haslam called him Monday, built a legendary career amid so much mediocrity. He blocked for over 20 quarterbacks during his career, and Cleveland won just 48 of a possible 176 games. Unsurprisingly, Thomas admitted he’ll miss the locker room most, but also received an open invitation from Haslam and coach Hue Jackson to spend time around the team whenever he’d like. It’s the least they could do for a player who dedicated his career to a team that repeatedly struggled to shift out of first gear, and to a city who embraced him from the moment he was drafted.
“From the day that I got here, I really embraced Cleveland. I fell in love with the city, the people, the fans,” Thomas told NFL Network’s Dan Hellie and Shaun O’Hara during a Monday appearance on NFL Total Access. “To feel that love reciprocated even 11 years after my rookie season here, it really feels awesome. To hear the team say those things about me is really cool.
“Most players that leave the game, they take away their keyfob the day that they leave the team and they’re forgotten about within a couple of weeks. To get that invitation from Hue and from Jimmy and Dee to be able to still be around the team and help out in any way I can really feels special.”
With his early jabs, he got out in front of potential questions about Cleveland’s ineptitude at his farewell gathering. From there, he shifted to giving thanks, listing scores of people associated with the Brownsfrom 2007 to 2018. He named six — yes, six — head coaches for whom he played, and even more general managers.
He also recalled his fondest memories as a Brown: Cleveland’s thrilling overtime win over Baltimore in 2007, the Brian Hoyer-led, record-setting comeback over Tennessee in 2014, Jerome Harrison’s and Josh Cribbs’ historic romp against Kansas City in 2009, Josh Gordon‘s individual receiving explosion in 2013 and even LeBron James congratulating him on his career achievements in a tweet.
Thomas didn’t shed a tear until a local beat reporter grabbed a microphone to open the round of questions and thanked him for the example he set as a professional amid seemingly constant chaos within the Browns organization. That same franchise thanked the player who skipped the draft to go fishing with his father by gifting him a custom fishing rod on Monday.
Thomas gave vague answers when asked what’s next, propping up his popular podcast “The ThomaHawk Show” (with fellow former Brown Andrew Hawkins) by mentioning its No. 1 ranking atop the iTunes chart before talking about keeping his doors open. He’ll likely step into a broadcasting role somewhere soon, given his charismatic nature, wealth of knowledge and football pedigree.
Where that will be, we’ll find out in the coming weeks or months. But five years from now, it’s all but guaranteed he’ll be getting measured for his gold jacket, as he delivers the franchise its greatest achievement from their time together: the newest Brown to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.