CLEVELAND (AP) — Joe Thomas didn't have much to celebrate during 11 seasons playing left tackle for the Cleveland Browns. It was mostly misery.
Numerous coaching changes. An ownership switch. One winning season. An 0-16 final one.
In two weeks, Thomas can make up for everything he didn't get.
One of 15 finalists for enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Thomas has a strong chance to be selected in his first year of eligibility.
With a resume that includes 10 consecutive Pro Bowls, a streak of 10,363 consecutive snaps and universal praise as one of the best to ever play his position, Thomas appears close to a lock as possible.
“I feel like I did what I could during my time in the NFL and you never know how the voters are going to lean one way or the other or what they’re going to weigh more than something else,” he said Wednesday night before hosting the Greater Cleveland Sports Awards.
“But I feel pretty confident.”
Thomas will find out on Feb. 9 when this year's class is announced at the NFL Honors show in Arizona as part of Super Bowl week festivities. Before then, Thomas, who retired following Cleveland's winless 2017 season, insists he's not feeling any nerves as the day approaches.
“I don’t really have a whole lot of anxiety because the old farmer saying is the hay’s in the barn already,” said Thomas, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2007 draft. "I’m sure when the day comes that we find out, I’ll have some more butterflies.
"But right now I feel like I’m just annoying my son because he tells me every day his friends ask him if he learned yet if his dad was in the Hall of Fame and he gets mad because he doesn’t know yet, and then he yells at me about it. So it’ll be nice to get my son off my back.”
If elected, Thomas will be the 18th player in Cleveland history to be immortalized in nearby Canton, Ohio, and first from the team's inglorious expansion era.
Since 1999, the Browns have been mostly an embarrassment. The chance for Browns fans to puff out their chests because of him isn't lost on Thomas.
“It wasn’t the greatest 20-some years since the team came back, but me possibly being in the Hall of Fame will be one of the highlights,” the Wisconsin native said. “I’m certainly planning on celebrating with the city if we make it happen this year.”
Thomas hasn't allowed himself to think too far ahead. But there have been some preliminary discussions with family about what could happen this summer. If he's elected, one thing is certain.
“Celebrating as big and as long as possible,” the 38-year-old father of four said. "We’re going to have a party here.”
If there's anything that could hold Thomas back from induction this year, it's the Browns' lack of success. In the past, some Hall of Fame candidates have been penalized by playing for losing teams.
Former Browns teammate Joe Haden believes did Thomas more than enough.
"It’s not Joe's fault that the Browns didn’t win and go to the playoffs,” said Haden, who played in Cleveland from 2010-16. “If he was on any other team, he would’ve been a Super Bowl champion. So for everybody to notice his greatness and know that he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer, no matter what fan base you talk to, it just shows that greatness like that is going to get noticed by everybody.”
Thomas quickly endeared himself to Cleveland's fans in 2007, when he skipped the draft in New York so he could go fishing in Wisconsin with his dad. It was an early sign of loyalty from a player who would later turn down chances to go elsewhere.
Thomas joked he might make a similar decision for the Hall's ceremony in August.
“Anything can happen if the fish are biting,” he said.
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