Joe Thomas: A player from a bygone era that we needed in this one

Ken Carman says thank you to Joe Thomas

Ken Carman
March 19, 2018 - 8:23 pm
Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas wipes away a tear after learning the beat writers renamed the player of the year award the Joe Thomas award during his retirement press conference at the Cleveland Browns training facility on Monday, March 19,

(Photo by Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal/


Joe Thomas should have played for Paul Brown. He should have been the left tackle for Otto Graham, and pulled in sweeps blocking for Jim Brown. He should have played on the other side of the line from Lou Groza. 

He should have protected Bernie Kosar, and led drills during camp with Clay Matthews. 

The way Joe Thomas played and carried himself for 11 seasons showed that Joe Thomas should have played during some of the most glorious years in Browns history. He should have helped win championships, and be one of the ghosts of an era of giants that my generation only dreams about. 

Life isn’t perfect though, but maybe Joe Thomas and his play had to serve a bit of a higher purpose. Instead of playing with legends, he was forced to carry the load for Also-rans, while a struggling expansion franchise tried to find it’s identity. 

Then tried again. 

And again. 

And again.

And again. 

During Joe’s time with the Browns he had to answer questions about 20 different quarterbacks, six head coaches, seven general mangers, and two owners. Throughout that time he saw teammates get cut, get arrested, loaf, succumb to personal problems even outside their own control. Coaches. Staff. Front Office. All of them have had embarrassing moments since 2007.  

And all during that time, it was Joe Thomas who stood by his locker, or at the podium and tried to talk Browns fans off the ledge. 

During a time of nearly non-stop turmoil, there was one constant that you and I could rely on: Joe Thomas was going to do his job and do it better than anyone in the NFL. 

We made leaders out of other players in the locker room over the last 11 years, only to see them fall to the pressure. You know the names. Guys we loved who had finally had enough and fired back at us, even though we all wanted the same thing. 

You and I look back at it now, and say “how could we blame them?” We would all crack under that pressure. We all wanted something so badly that words, tweets, emails (EVEN THE GENERAL MANAGER LOST HIS COOL WITH FANS ONCE) got out of hand. We’ve settled those differences for the most part, and have wished each other well, and hope someday that the Browns will be great, and we’ll be able to welcome back some of those players with open arms. 

Never Joe, though. 

No complaint. Not once. 

He suffered in silence with unimaginable back and knee problems while the media began to complain about “veteran days off.” He never once, although we’re sure he thought about it, fired back at the few frustrated fans who took their emotions out on him because they knew he was the one that could take it. While the other players, coaches, GM’s and presidents could take their money and run, Joe stayed, and became a sounding board to so many. We love the Browns, and there’s times we need to vent. Joe knew it, and knowing he was the face of the franchise for better or worse, took it all without complaint. 

Through all this though, Browns fans love Joe Thomas. They know that they can trust him. He’s not perfect, just like none of us are, but he tries every day to be a good person, just like all of us do. You know that what you see is what you get: an honest, genuine individual who does the best job he can at the highest level that he can do it, and is thankful that you took the time out of your day to get his autograph, or get your family’s picture taken with him. He’s a man that knows he’s been given a gift, and Cleveland knows he feels gratitude towards them. 

You can’t help but think of your own fandom in parallel to Joe’s career on a day like today. I remember my own, and how that’s changed over the last 11 years. 

I was working at the stone plant in Massillon when Joe was drafted. I remember a couple of us got in an argument because a couple guys thought he should have been at the draft instead of fishing. Then I was just a college dummy with a dream to work in radio. Later I got the chance to work for The Fan, and while I’m still a dummy, it’s been something unimaginable to learn about the NFL, the Browns, and what players really think from the times he’s sat down to shoot the bull with us before he went about his day. A little break from his day, an unexpected treat of ours. 

It’s about to be different now, for myself and a lot of Browns fans. Joe Thomas was the last player older than me. They’re all younger now, and while a lot of us don’t notice that in our fandom, things change. Joe was the last tie to a different life as a fan. We realize the business of sports because we have to deal with our own personal business, and while we may be still ardent, there is something that changes. 

We’re reminded of how rough it’s been. The times where it was only our father’s and grandfather’s memories that we hung on to. Cleveland sports isn’t a past time, it’s a tradition, and at times the Browns have tested that tradition. The same times where we think our fandom has been pushed to it’s limit, and we think that “this is supposed to be fun, isn’t it?”, and we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take this anymore! We’ve thought about the change, the ugliness, and the losing. Through it all though, has been our Hall of famer. And it makes us prouder to call him our favorite player than ever. 

When I think about that, I can’t wait for the ceremony in five years. I can’t wait to buy a seat in Canton, and sit down with my little boys and watch the ceremony for football greats as the sun drops behind the trees on Clarendon Ave, and then watch Joe Thomas give his acceptance speech to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. We can guarantee that a ton of fans like us have already cleared their schedule for it. 

At the end of these columns, I always write that someday the Browns will be better. Someday, the Browns will be back at the top of the football world. This column is no different. 

It’s because of Joe Thomas that I still believe that. I still do fear a locker room without him. I wonder who will be the leader of the Cleveland Browns now that he has to walk away? Yet I’m reassured. 

I’m reassured because we’ve gone through Hell over the last 20 years as Browns fans, and sadly, the last 11 years have been some of the worst. But I couldn’t imagine how we’d feel about the Browns today if it weren’t for Joe Thomas. As mad as we’ve been about 1-31, could you imagine how we feel if the Brows didn’t have him? One player doing exactly what Clevelanders have done their whole lives: going out and doing the best he could do with the hope that someday it will be better, and knowing that someday, some way, it will be. 

Joe Thomas’ career was so great that deserved to play with the legends. He deserves championship rings. Yet, it takes a special player to be so great in outrageously tough times. Instead of the light at the end of the tunnel, he was the player who was the light to help us get through that tunnel. To keep us believing in something that we loved. Something that we fought to keep. A reminder of a team and time we loved, and no matter what, a history that we’ll always be proud of. 

Thanks, Joe.