Nothing could keep Joe Thomas off the field.
The Browns’ sturdy left tackle never missed a game and never missed a single snap before a freak injury ended his 2017 season. And, sadly, his career.
The face of Cleveland’s franchise for more than a decade, and one of the best offensive linemen in NFL history, Thomas retired Wednesday after 11 seasons, ending a run exemplified by durability, dependability and dominance.
A 10-time Pro Bowler, Thomas ended months of self-reflection and speculation with a bow.
“This was an extremely difficult decision, but the right one for me and my family,” said Thomas, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2007 draft. “Playing in the NFL has taken a toll on my body and I can no longer physically compete at the level I need to.”
Thomas started 167 consecutive games and was on the field for 10,363 consecutive snaps before tearing his left triceps while blocking on a routine running play during an Oct. 22 game against Tennessee.
The injury required surgery and gave Thomas more time to consider the next phase of life. And to reflect on a career that will one day lead to his enshrinement in Canton.
“From the moment I was drafted, the city embraced me in a way that I could never fully describe,” Thomas said. “I am proud to call Cleveland home.
“The loyalty and passion of Browns fans is unmatched and it was an honor to play in front of them from the past 11 years. I would like to thank all of the coaches, teammates, staff, fans and everyone who has shown me support throughout my career.
“Even though I will be hanging up my cleats, I will always be a Cleveland Brown.”
After announcing his retirement, Thomas, who hosts a popular podcast with former teammate Andrew Hawkins, said knee pain was the primary reason for his retirement on “The ThomaHawk Show.”
Jovial with a Midwestern charm, he personified this blue-collar city: loyal, hardworking, reliable.
Owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam said Thomas’ playing streak — the number 10,363 — will be added to the team’s ring of honor at FirstEnergy Stadium this season.
Thomas is one of just five players selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his first 10 seasons, and the other four — Barry Sanders, Lawrence Taylor, Mel Renfro and Merlin Olsen — are Hall of Famers.
The Browns have been in a perpetual cycle of chaos almost since Thomas was drafted.
Thomas played for six coaches, at least that many offensive coordinators, and protected 20 quarterbacks during his 11 seasons.
But despite year after year of losing, Thomas never wavered in his commitment to the Browns or Cleveland. He’s the only player to earn the team’s Walter Payton Man of the Year distinction several times and Thomas was active with several area charity groups.
“When I hear a lot that stuff about my career, I have to pinch myself because I wanted to show up every day and do my job and be a good teammate, and then 11 years later I was able to rack up some impressive accolades,” he said. “So hopefully years from now when my kids grow up and think I’m a total jerk and telling me how much of a loser I am, I can say, ‘Well, I did win a Walter Payton Man of the Year a couple times.’”