Legend T Joe Thomas (9.15.22)


On what goes through his mind when he hears ‘Browns Legend’ associated with his name and if it makes him feel old at all:

“First of all, I would like to say how honored I am that I can be in (Director of Community & Corporate Communications) Rob McBurnett’s personal meeting room today – it is a great honor (laughter) – but none greater than being inducted into the Legends club this weekend. It does make me feel a little bit old, especially I was looking at some Browns stuff today kind of getting ready for the game this weekend, and I saw that (T) James Hudson (III) is 23 years old. I am like, ‘He is 15 years younger than me (laughing)?’ I am thinking to myself in my mind, I do not feel like I am that far removed from playing the game and from playing that position, but then when you start putting numbers on it and you start thinking back memories and I was talking to my kids about going to the game and they are all excited about coming to the Browns game, and I asked my oldest daughter, Logan, who is nine, ‘What do you remember about going to Browns games?’ She went to a ton of games when she was little, and she said, ‘Daddy, the only thing I remember about Browns game is sitting on the floor at the stadium and eating peanuts.’ (Laughter). She loved peanuts, and she would go with my wife (Annie) and some of our friends and they would always buy her a bag of peanuts and crack them. They do not even remember me wearing a Browns jersey. I think they have no like memories of me playing football, which is a little sad but it is also kind of cool now for me to be able to come back and be recognized, be on the field and for them to wear my jerseys and start to make some of those memories now, and the team is a little bit better (laughter).”


On if he could have imagined as a rookie in 2007 that he would one day become a Browns Legend and be eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year:

“It was funny, I remember back to an interview that I did my rookie season when I was not a real big talker back then so I had to keep to myself a little bit more. I think maybe MK (Cleveland.com beat reporter Mary Kay Cabot) asked me about what some of my goals were, and I said that I would like to become the starter and make the Pro Bowl and then make the Hall of Fame. I did not really think anything of it, but it kind of was a little bit of a newsworthy item for this rookie to say that he wanted to go into the Hall of Fame. Nobody ever like slapped my wrist about it, but I realized maybe I probably should not put my goals out there for the commonfolk to absorb and criticize because those are some pretty lofty goals for a guy that has never played a game in the NFL to say that he wanted to be in the Hall of Fame. That is where my mindset was. That is what I wanted to do in my career. I am not there yet. This is a really special step for me to be recognized by the organization and put my name amongst the greats of whoever wore a Cleveland Browns uniform, which when you look at all the Ring of Honors and the Legends clubs throughout the NFL, the Browns are almost incomparable. Maybe one or two of the other founding franchises have as many players that are in the Hall of Fame or are among the greatest players the game has ever seen, but it is hard to argue with the group of Legends that the Browns have. Putting my name in there is really special.”


On if it has started to hit him that the goals he set as a rookie are becoming a reality now:

“Yeah, it has gotten real because you do have to talk about it. People ask you questions about it. It is fun to think about it. It is fun to talk about coming back to FirstEnergy Stadium and becoming forever one of the Legends, getting the brown jacket and seeing old teammates and old friends. I think the job the Haslams (Managing and Principal Partners Dee and Jimmy Haslam) have done recognizing the alumni and trying to make that a great network and a community of friends and a brotherhood, it is really cool because when I first got there, there really was not a whole lot of recognition for alumni. There was no Browns Legends Club – or if there was I did not know about it (laughter). I think it is pretty cool that we are doing a good job now, led by the Haslams, bringing the names of old and connecting them with guys that are recently retired and then also guys that are on the field right now to try to link all of the generations of Browns players.”


On who from his family will be at the Alumni Weekend and Legends events this weekend and how old are his kids:

“It is going to be really special for everybody. I am raising my kids the right way – they are being raised as Browns fans. We watch the games together on the weekends, and they love it. They have all of their Browns stuff on when it is a school spirit day. We live in Wisconsin so of course everybody has Packers gear, there are a couple of Vikings and maybe one or two Bears but they are the only Browns fans wearing their Browns jerseys, but they do it proudly. My kids are now nine, eight, six, and four. My baby, whose name is Reese, she just started preschool/pre-K this year. Everybody is out of the house at school, which is hard to believe. They will all be there this weekend. My parents will be there. My in-laws will be there. My sister, her husband and their kids unfortunately can’t be here. They are about the only ones who will not be able to make it from my immediate family because my sister just had twins like two weeks ago. She has [kids who are] three, one and then two newborns so she was a little bit busy. Other than her and her family, everybody from my family will be here. It is definitely a special weekend for all of us.”


On his biggest reflection on the success of his NFL career:

“To me, the thing that sticks out the most when I reflect back on my career is those 10,363 consecutive snaps. It is meaningful for me in a number of different ways. Obviously, it is special because it had not been done before as far as we know – or as far as I am willing to look (laughter). I think it is kind of a historic, difficult record. As an offensive lineman, we do not really get a lot of records except for bad ones: holdings, penalties, so on and so forth. I think more than that, it kind of typifies what I try to be as a teammate, which was I tried to be reliable, I tried to be consistent and I tried to be always there for the guys around me and to help them do their jobs as well as they possibly could. That was what drove me to play through pain and play through injuries and show up every Sunday. Seeing that number, it kind of makes me reflect back on all of the faces and the names that I played with. A lot of people like to play the fun, ‘Hey, can you name all the quarterbacks you started with’ game, and I can’t. I am not real good names, and I am certainly not good at remembering all of the quarterbacks. I feel very fortunate when I see that number to think back on how many great people I played with. Not a lot of success, but a lot of great people in that 11 seasons that I played. I did have a chance to play with some really, really good football players, as well. That is part of the fun of following the team now is being able to see guys like (TE) David Njoku, (G) Joel Bitonio and guys that I was there either playing with or as I was rehabbing my elbow injury got a chance to be around and see kind of their development from when they were rookies to now, many of them or some of them All-Pros. It has definitely been a fun journey, and I think that is probably the thing that sticks out the most in my mind.”


On being welcomed back in the building whenever he is in Cleveland, as well as having the opportunity to support young Browns players:

“Definitely try to keep my head down and not make too big of a deal out of it because I feel so fortunate to be able to come back and share some wisdom from time to time and try to mentor and help in any way that I can. I think it is probably a pretty unique opportunity. I am not sure of many other people that are given such an amazing chance to still be around the team even though I am not coaching, I am not playing and I am not really doing anything, but I still get that inside access. It feels really special. I am very blessed and thankful to (Head) Coach (Kevin) Stefanski and the staff that they have welcomed me because I did not play for any of those guys. They were not my coaches. There is no connection there. I know (Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager) Andrew Berry from my time when he was the [vice president] of pro personnel at the time, and we had a relationship back then. I would think most NFL teams would be like, ‘Hey, buzz off, loser. You are not here anymore. You are not part of the team. You do not deserve to have that access or that treatment.’ I definitely feel lucky, and I try to make sure that it is not a one-way street that it is not just me eating their free pancakes in the morning and that I am hopefully giving something to the boys out there and that they can use and take with them that can help the team on Sundays.”


On receiving a ton of love from Browns fans, especially after his playing days:

“It feels amazing to get the love from the fans. It feels incredible. I oftentimes feel like I am maybe not worthy of that type of love from a fanbase. One, I played an unlovable position of offensive line. Like nobody should really know who we are. It is a little bit different in Cleveland. I think that was one of the things that got me so excited when I got drafted in Cleveland was because I knew about the fanbase, how knowledgeable they were about the game and how much love they had for the down and dirty guys in the trenches along the offensive and defensive line and the blue-collar nature of the city and the fanbase that I think would embrace an offensive lineman. It was true and then some. I feel like I need to be grateful at every moment of every second of every day to the fanbase for accepting me and remembering me, even though we went through some really, really hard times together. As I say a lot, maybe that is part of the reason that I connect with the fans still so much is because we did go through some tough times together, and I think sometimes tough times breeds a unique bond. I definitely feel that to the fans. When you get a chance to come home and have moments like this weekend at FirstEnergy Stadium and feel the love from the fans, I think it makes it even more special.”


On having the ability to remain connected to football after his playing career in his media role and how much he misses playing on Sundays:

“When I was playing, it was priorities in my life: football and then everything else. I knew in retirement I wanted to flip that. I wanted to make sure that I was spending the time where it was most important to me, which was family, friends and then football. That did not mean that I did not want football in my life. I think guys that struggle in retirement, they think, ‘Oh, I do not need football. It was just a game that I played.’ Well, then you reflect back and you are like, ‘Well, it has been my life since I was 12 years old,’ so to try to just say that it is not a part of your life anymore or to not use the wisdom and the intelligence that you have garnered through 20-something years of playing football and becoming the best and the brightest in the football world, it feels like you are sort of squandering it, and I think a lot of guys struggle to just totally divorce themselves from the game. It is what we are experts as, just like you guys are all experts at media and writing. You spend your whole life becoming an expert and that is something that people want to hear from you, and then to just try to say that you are not interested in that, I think it is really tough. It is difficult to reinvent yourself as it is, but you have this amazing gift and talent if you played pro football that I think it would be a waste to not use it at all. For me to find something like media, where I can still get my football fix and I can still use some of my brain that has been trained on the game of football for so long, still get that fulfillment and that satisfaction of using your brain for something, I think it really gives you a reason to wake up in the morning. It has been awesome. I feel really lucky because there are just not that many seats in the NFL media world as it is – certainly not enough to fill all the former players that want to be doing something like this. I feel really lucky about that, and the great thing about doing media for me is that it fits really well with sort of my current life where my kids and my family are my priority, but I still have enough time on the side to be able to dive into the NFL and dive into my work in football media. I feel really lucky to have found that balance shortly after my career.”


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