Joe Thomas joked about his former coaches, thanked many of his ex-teammates and playfully referred to himself as a mushroom.
The 10-time Pro Bowl selection commanded the room — and kept his emotions in check — until the final moments of his retirement news conference Monday.
“It is with all of this that I must say goodbye,” Thomas said, his eyes welling with tears. “Goodbye, not because I’m saying goodbye, but I’m just changing jobs from being your left tackle to being the No. 1 fan of the Cleveland Browns.
“Playing in front of the greatest fans in the NFL was easily the greatest honor of my 11-year career.”
Thomas, the No. 3 pick in the 2007 draft, formally bid farewell in an afternoon celebration at the Browns’ training facility. He was joined by his wife Annie, their three children, longtime agent Peter Schaffer, and several hundred invited guests.
The 6-foot-6, 310-pounder announced the end of his Hall of Fame-caliber run five days earlier, citing the physical toll of starting 167 straight games and playing an NFL-record 10,363 consecutive offensive snaps to begin his career.
Thomas’ ironman streak ended when he tore his left triceps in an Oct. 22 home game against Tennessee, but admitted that thoughts of retirement had entered his mind before the season-ending injury.
“I was in tough shape physically and I was concerned that I wasn’t going to make it through the season,” the three-time Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee said.
“I also was concerned that my performance was going to drop significantly because of what I had to do to get my [ailing] knee ready on Sunday. I wanted people to remember the player that I was on the field.”
The Wisconsin native — and All-American tackle with his beloved Badgers — is one of the best players never to appear in a playoff game. He set the gold standard as the lone offensive lineman in NFL history to be chosen for the Pro Bowl in his first 10 seasons.
Hall of Famers Barry Sanders, Lawrence Taylor, Mel Renfro and Merlin Olson are the only other players to accomplish the feat. Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III is confident that Thomas will join them in nearby Canton.
“Five years from now, all of us in this room will make the trek down to Canton to watch Joe as a first-ballot Hall of Famer, which he richly deserves as one of the all-time greats of the league,” Haslam said.
“But first, we’re celebrating him today, and we’ll celebrate it again this year when the number 10,363 goes up in our ring of honor [at FirstEnergy Stadium].”
Haslam, general manager John Dorsey and coach Hue Jackson presented Thomas with a fishing rod embroidered with his familiar No. 73. The city of Cleveland will fete him on July 3 with “Joe Thomas Day.”
Thomas’ local popularity began on his draft day, when he bypassed a trip to New York in favor of fishing with his father. While on Lake Michigan, he told reporters that his objective was to become a Hall of Famer.
“I knew what I wanted to focus on from day one because I wanted to make sure my goals were as high as they wanted to be,” he said. “I gave it my all and I never sold myself short. Hopefully, in five years, I’ll be able to think about that a little more.”
Though he hopes to remain with the Browns in some capacity, Thomas plans on moving back to Wisconsin to spend more time with his parents and extended family. His short-term plan is continuing to host a podcast with former Cleveland wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, but he is eager to pursue potential coaching and broadcasting jobs.
Jackson, who warmly embraced Thomas off stage, compared him to a fancy sports car and believes he will be successful in whatever field he chooses.
“I don’t know if I’m a Ferrari, maybe more of a beat-up truck like Mater on that show ‘Cars,”’ Thomas said. “The main reason I retired was I knew that Hue was going to make the rest of the team jump in the lake with him this year (honoring his vow after a 0-16 season), and I didn’t want to do that.”
The Browns sent defensive back C.J. Smith to Seattle for a 2020 conditional seventh-round pick.