BEREA, Ohio — Joe Thomas weaved his way through reporters in the locker room, surveying the group before stepping behind a podium.
“I’m not sure what all the commotion is about,” the 10-time Pro Bowl left tackle said Thursday. “I’m just a guy that shows up and does his job every day, hoping I can set a good example for my teammates.”
Though he insists otherwise, there is nothing ordinary about this Joe.
Thomas hasn’t missed a single play during his career, logging 9,996 consecutive offensive snaps. He should reach an unprecedented 10,000 in a row Sunday when Cleveland plays the Ravens in Baltimore.
According to research by the Browns, Thomas’ ironman streak is the longest in NFL history, though the league did not officially begin recording snap counts until 1999.
“You can’t be voted in the Hall of Fame when you’re still playing, right?” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.
“I think he should consider making a move toward the Hall of Fame and retire because we’re getting tired of playing against him.
“He is a great mover, strong, gifted guy always, but the other thing is you can always tell the leadership he exudes. He never really makes a mistake.”
Thomas, 32, has been the face of the downtrodden franchise since Cleveland made him the No. 3 overall pick in 2007.
Hall of Famer Merlin Olsen is the only player with more Pro Bowl selections to begin a career than Thomas’ 10.
The 6-foot-6, 312-pounder has persevered through the pain of three torn medial collateral ligaments, two high ankle sprains, and a torn lateral collateral ligament while the Browns have stumbled to a league-worst 48-113 record.
“I’ve never considered not being out there and not helping the team,” Thomas said. “Unless I absolutely can’t do it, I will be out there. That’s just the way I was raised, but it does get frustrating at times when a guy doesn’t play because he doesn’t feel good. To that, I say, ‘I hardly ever feel good and I’m out there.”’
While Thomas is strictly business in uniform and doesn’t seek attention out of it, he has a dry sense of humour and is known for his compassion in the community. The married father of three also has an ability to befriend and mentor younger players.
Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer meets with Thomas multiple times each week and said, “To be here alongside of him and to be a small piece of what he’s been able to do is an honour.”
Kizer added: “I don’t know if I’ve even taken 10,000 snaps of football in my life, and he’s done it in the NFL. Obviously, he’s a unicorn and he’s going to have a gold (Hall of Fame) coat coming soon.”
Thomas was visibly moved by Kizer’s comments and became choked up when discussing the ongoing support of his family. True to form, he lightened the mood by shifting the discussion back to football.
“I’m sure I’ve done something boring 10,000 times like open car doors or something,” the eight-time All-Pro said. “But nothing as exciting as taking 10,000 snaps in a row.”
Ever humble, Thomas downplayed comparisons to Cal Ripken Jr.’s major league record of 2,632 consecutive games by referring to his personal streak as weird and a novelty. He also didn’t want to speculate how long his run could last.
Thomas is under contract through 2018 and has no short-term plans to retire, but admitted he has one more milestone to check off beyond 10,000 consecutive snaps — all of them in the regular season.
“Making the playoffs one time would easily be the highlight of my NFL career,” he said. “To have a home playoff game at FirstEnergy Stadium would be awesome. Hopefully, we can do it this year.”