Former Cleveland Browns Tackle Joe Thomas A Well-Deserved First Ballot Hall Of Famer

There is no little irony in the fact that one of the greatest Cleveland Browns players ever had the misfortune of playing his entire career through the bleakest era in franchise history.

But greatness is greatness, no matter what the scoreboard says, and you have to go back over half a century, to the heyday of Jim Brown, to find a Browns player greater than tackle Joe Thomas.

The third player selected in the 2007 draft, Thomas was a Pro Bowl selection every year of his career. He not only never missed a game, he never missed a snap, playing 10,363 consecutive snaps until he suffered a career-ending triceps injury in 2017.

Thomas this year will become one of just seven tackles to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year on the ballot. He is part of the Hall of Fame Class of 2023, which was announced last week.

For Thomas, it’s a well-deserved payoff for a player who endured year after year of his team’s competitive ineptitude. The Browns finished last in their division in nine of Thomas’ 11 years in the league, including back-to-back seasons of 1-15 and 0-16 in 2016 and 2017.

During that time Thomas played under six head coaches, nine offensive coordinators, two owners, “and a revolving door of quarterbacks.” Needless to say, Thomas never played in a postseason game.

However, through all the losing, Thomas was a block of granite at left tackle. He was so superior to all others at his position, that even the self-effacing Thomas admitted he liked his Hall of Fame chances.

“I felt comfortable with my resume,” he said on a Zoom call with reporters. “Some guys talk about how nerve wracking it was, but I felt good about what I had done as an NFL player to be eligible for the Hall of Fame. But you never know for sure what’s going to happen.”

What happened, is what was expected to happen. Three weeks ago, Hall of Fame Seattle Seahawks tackle Walter Jones, one of Thomas’ heroes, who, like Thomas, spent his entire career with one team, knocked on the door of Thomas’ home in Wisconsin to deliver the news. Thomas’ son answered the door, thinking it was one of his friends. But the son came running into the kitchen and said, “Daddy, we made it!”

“It instantly knocked me off my feet emotionally,” Thomas said. “The fact that my idol told my son who told me made it even better than I ever could have scripted.”

The ensuing days have been a whirlwind for the 38-year-old Thomas. There was a luncheon at which the Class of 2023 Hall of Famers were introduced to the current Hall of Famers, during which Thomas had his picture taken with Orlando Pace, another Hall of Fame tackle and Thomas idol.

“What’s really cool,” Thomas said, “is that once you become a Hall of Famer, even though you don’t have your gold jacket yet, all those guys knew I was becoming part of that family. All of a sudden, they accept you as a peer and want to find out more about you. So that was really awesome, spending time with the greats that came before you.”

But what really drove home the point that Thomas was officially a Hall of Famer was when he reported to the sculptor who will create his Hall of Fame bust.

“They call it ‘Sizing Saturday’,” Thomas said. “That made it the most real for me, because you sit with a world famous sculptor and he’s measuring every little nose hair that you’ve got. The giant ears I’ve got. ‘I don’t think we’ve had any that size before,’ he said. He’s the first master sculptor I’ve ever met. So, I picked his brain. I asked him if he’d ever been to Florence or to Rome. He probably thought I was a pretty big nerd.

“The process is, they take your measurements, and they take a picture of your face. Then they carve out a clay mold, and in April you fly to his studio in Utah and sit for four or five hours while he finishes the details, and makes sure you’re happy with what he’s done. Then they turn that into bronze somehow.”

Thomas will become the sixth offensive lineman in Browns history to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, the first since guard Gene Hickerson in 2007.

Thomas says he hasn’t decided yet on who he will ask to be his presenter on induction day.

“I’ve had a lot of people who have touched my life and been part of my journey,” he said. “That makes it challenging to narrow it down to one person. This whole thing has been a lot more emotional than I expected. I wasn’t prepared for this at all.”