CLEVELAND, Ohio (92.3 The Fan) – Joe Thomas is two weeks away from finally being able to celebrate his career with the Browns.
A finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Thomas is just as anxious as everyone else to find out if he will indeed be a first ballot Hall of Famer like so many expect when the class of 2023 is revealed at NFL Honors on February 9.
“I’ll have some more butterflies,” Thomas said prior to hosting the 23rd Greater Cleveland Sports Awards at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. “But right now I feel like I’m just annoying my son because he tells me every day his friends ask him if he learned yet if his dad was in the Hall of Fame and he gets mad because he doesn’t know yet, and then he yells at me about it. So it’ll be nice to get my son off my back.”
Being invited back to host the annual awards show that pays tribute to local professional, collegiate and high school athletes and their achievements is an honor for Thomas, a Wisconsin native who embraced Cleveland almost immediately after being selected third overall in the 2007 NFL Draft.
One of 15 finalists, Thomas is optimistic while understanding there are no guarantees.
“I feel like I did what I could during my time in the NFL, and you never know how the voters are going to lean one way or the other or what they’re going to weigh more than something else,” Thomas said. “But I feel pretty confident.”
A 10-time Pro Bowler, Thomas played 10,363 consecutive snaps before a torn biceps tendon ended his streak, and career midway through the 2017 season.
“I think when you mention his name, it's consistency, right,” receiver Joe Jurevicius, who played with Thomas in 2007, said. “I think a lot of times you've got to realize that to play that position, there's toughness that comes with that. You have to have a little bit of goofiness, you got to have some smarts, and I think Joe kind of personified all of them.
“I think for him to do it, the longevity, the number of snaps to do it with the consistency, there's a reason that he should be a first timer.”
Wednesday night was an opportunity for Thomas to reflect on his years in Cleveland with appreciation while also finding humor in surviving so many miserable seasons with the Browns.
Thomas, who would become the 18th player in franchise history to be elected – but the first in the post-1999 reincarnation, played the hits during his opening monologue before giving way to the awards portion of the evening.
He told the story of Johnny Manziel in Las Vegas disguised as ‘Billy Manziel’ and how he and his teammates were sent snapchats from Manziel, who was partying, the morning of their game.
There was the time Thomas introduced himself to quarterback Josh Johnson, who was signed just days earlier and had to come in late in the fourth quarter of another season-ending loss in Pittsburgh, and Thomas told that story too.
Peyton Manning practically begged Thomas to convince the Browns to trade him to the Broncos. Joe told the crowd about telling Peyton “No.”
Since the Browns have come back, the franchise has been one of the league’s worst on the field. Off of it, they’ve been mostly a three-ring circus of losing, change and drama.
Thomas endured 10 losing seasons in his 11 years. His final season, the Browns hit rock bottom and didn’t win a game.
“It’s not Joe’s fault that the Browns didn’t win and go to the playoffs,” Joe Haden, who was Thomas’ teammate from 2010-16 and retired as a Brown last year, said. “If he was on any other team, he would’ve been a Super Bowl champion. So for everybody to notice his greatness and know that he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer, no matter what fan base you talk to, it just shows that greatness like that is going to get noticed by everybody.”
Until his elbow injury, Thomas was one of few bright spots Browns fans could count on. The hope is, come August, Cleveland will have something tangible to celebrate – a Hall of Famer.
“That’s the one thing on everybody’s mind, and they talk about it wasn’t the greatest 20-some years since the team came back, but that me possibly being in the Hall of Fame will be one of the highlights,” Thomas said.
Guardians manager Terry Francona met Thomas in 2013 and instantly became a fan.
“I know how much he means to the city of Cleveland,” Francona said. “And to hear him say what the city of Cleveland means to him I think is pretty cool. In this day and age where most of the stories are not really positive, he sticks out as a positive one.”
Francona needs no convincing when it comes to Thomas’ Hall of Fame case.
“I’m biased,” Francona said. “Every time I get asked, all I think about is do I like the guy? And yeah, I do.”
If he is elected, Thomas has been envisioning plans to celebrate with Browns fans.
“We haven’t obviously put together any plans yet, but just the preliminary ideas are being floated out there of definitely doing something that can celebrate the whole city because it’s not too far down the road to Canton from where we are,” Thomas said.
When it comes to the induction speech, don’t expect Thomas to thank every one of the 24 quarterbacks he blocked for.
“We don’t have that much time,” Thomas said. “We have a party to go to.”