CLEVELAND — Just before boarding a flight, former Browns left tackle Joe Thomas took a trip down memory lane as he was asked about his upcoming induction into the Browns Legends program, an exclusive group reserved for players who left undeniable impacts on the franchise.
Thomas recalled his rookie year back in 2007 and the goals he had set for his career at that point in time.
"I said that I would like to become the starter and make the Pro Bowl and then make the Hall of Fame. I did't 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," Thomas said. "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."
The confidence in what he wanted out of his career was something that he was able to achieve and that's becoming more evident now that his playing days are over. Next year, Thomas will be on the ballot for Hall of Fame voting, and he seems to be a shoo-in to land a spot among the greats.
First, however, he'll be honored by the Browns in a special halftime ceremony during Sunday's home opener against the New York Jets. It's a recognition that Thomas knows carries a lot of weight.
"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," Thomas mused. "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.”
Sunday is expected to be one full of family, friends and former teammates, all there to watch Thomas get the honor of becoming a Browns Legend. The only absence Sunday will be his sister and her family, but for good reason—she just had twins a few weeks ago. Undoubtedly, though, she'll send all of her love.
This day is extra special for him as his children, who he says he's raising "the right way," get to see their dad celebrated in such a special way.
“It's going to be really special for everybody. I'm 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," Thomas said. "They'll all be there this weekend. My parents will be there. My in-laws will be there...It is definitely a special weekend for all of us.”
With those closest to him surrounding him for the ceremony, there are a few more thousand people Thomas is excited to be in the presence of Sunday—Browns fans.
The love Thomas has received, not only when he was on the field and giving the fans something to be excited about in some dreary years as a team, is something that he doesn't always feel he deserves. But if you look around any social media platform or talk to any Browns fan on the street, you'll likely see and hear nothing but good things about the former lineman. For Thomas, that means the world.
“It feels amazing to get the love from the fans. It feels incredible. I oftentimes feel like I'm 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 's a little bit different in Cleveland," Thomas said. "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."
Through the good and the bad, Thomas remained a beloved figure in the Cleveland Browns organization. Whether he's hosting a podcast, in the booth to call a game, providing analysis on a national sports outlet, coaching current players up during practice, or just meeting fans and signing autographs—Thomas is a man of all people.
He is a Browns figure that has earned every ounce of recognition that comes his way.
Joe Thomas is a Browns Legend.
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