On Saturday, Aug. 5 in Canton, Ohio, legendary Cleveland Browns left tackle Joe Thomas will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Thomas will be the 18th Brown to be enshrined, and just the seventh modern-era tackle in NFL history to be inducted on his first year of eligibility.
Apart from being one of the best left tackles in the game -- he was a 10-time Pro Bowler and eight-time All-Pro in 11 total NFL seasons -- Thomas was known for being consistent. He started in all 167 NFL games he suited up for, and played 10,363 consecutive snaps. That is believed to be an NFL record. The football legend didn't leave the game altogether when he retired, as he does some media work for the Browns franchise, and is a popular analyst for the NFL Network.
This week, Thomas spoke with CBS Sports about his upcoming enshrinement, his epic career with the Browns, and more.
CBS Sports: First of all, congratulations on your upcoming enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. What an honor. Have you thought about what that moment is going to be like when you take the podium?
Joe Thomas: I've thought about it a little bit and one of the things I'm thinking about is, how am I going to hold it together when my kids are up there on the stage and I'm looking out over the sea of tens of thousands of Browns fans and they're all cheering and I'm sitting there thinking about my career? What's going to be my strategy so that when I start to tear up I'm able to bring it back and hopefully be able to finish my speech?
I saw you celebrated your upcoming honor by getting taken down by a K-9 unit while teaming up with USAA. Tell me a little bit about that.
JT: Yeah there's no better way to celebrate a Hall of Fame enshrinement than to go get tackled by some military working dogs. Myself and Whitney Mercilus had a really cool opportunity to go down to Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio with USAA, who is the official NFL Salute to Service Partner, and it was really cool. We got an opportunity to go meet their handlers and see what their life is like on a daily basis.
Good thing that I had that suit on or I might not be making it to the enshrinement.
#ad Thanks to @USAA for bringing @merci380 & I out to run the ‘K-9 40’ at JBSA-Randolph. It was awesome to see both these military working dogs & their handlers, who help protect our country. Thank you for your service! #USAApartner #SalutetoService pic.twitter.com/mlWuFLBd0P— Joe Thomas (@joethomas73) July 27, 2023
You put together a legendary NFL career for yourself. Was football always a priority for you? What did you think you were going to be when you were in high school?
JT: I always loved football and it was a huge priority for me, but that's just because I liked the sport. I never really thought too much about the opportunity to play professionally because it happens to so few people. So my parents were pretty good about just keeping me focused on getting good grades and doing a good job staying out of trouble. You know, just enjoy playing sports and having fun with your friends and not taking it too seriously.
I think when I was little I wanted to be an athletic trainer. Because I loved sports, but I kinda figured out [I would] probably never have a chance to actually play professionally. So the closest thing would be to work in the field and have an opportunity to work with athletes every day as a trainer.
Did you have a 'Welcome to the NFL' moment during your rookie season in 2007?
JT: I think my "Welcome to the NFL" moment was halftime of the first game of the season when our starting quarterback and captain Charlie Frye, the hometown hero, got benched, and we brought in Derek Anderson, and one day later, Charlie Frye was shipped off and traded to the Seattle Seahawks for a sixth-round pick. So going from being your opening-day starter and captain, to being out of town one day later was definitely an eye-opening moment that this is a business, baby. This ain't college anymore, nobody's on scholarship.
Who was the best pass rusher you had to battle during your time in the league, and why?
JT: I think Terrell Suggs, Demarcus Ware, Dwight Freeney and James Harrison are the guys that gave me the most trouble. I think all of them are unique. All of them did different things really well. Obviously everybody knows Freeney for his spin move, James Harrison is known for his dip-and-rip, Demarcus Ware is known for his power and how quick he gets off the ball and Suggs was known for his slipperiness. I think all of them provided me really unique challenges. I'm not sure if any one was more difficult than any other one, but I definitely did not enjoy the matchup because I wasn't going to sleep much going into that game with those guys.
If you were speaking to a rookie on the Browns or any young player entering the league, and they asked you, 'What is the key to success in the NFL?' What would you say?
JT: I would say work hard, pay attention and be on time. Just like the keys to having success in any job. If you're able to do those three things, you're able to give yourself a solid foundation. Those core values will guide you no matter what you face when you're in the NFL.
When all the Browns fans are sitting at the bar 30 years from now, taking '73 Kolschs' to the face and talking about old times and Browns legends, what do you want them to say about Joe Thomas? How do you want to be remembered in the city of Cleveland?
JT: Well, I hope I'm sitting next to them taking "73 Kolschs" to the face. But I hope what they're saying is that I was one of the best teammates that has ever played for the Browns. A guy that loved the city as much or more than anybody that's ever been here, and would do anything for his teammates and anything for this city and anything for this team.