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The untold stories of Hall of Fame tackle Joe Thomas

The untold stories of Hall of Fame tackle Joe ThomasThe untold stories of Hall of Fame tackle Joe Thomas

The untold stories of Hall of Fame tackle Joe Thomas

Publish – 28 july , 2023

Joe Thomas may not have won a Super Bowl or participated in a playoff game during his 11-season tenure as the Cleveland Browns’ left tackle, but his dedication and commitment were second to none. He refused to take a single play off and never left the field, giving his all until a torn triceps tendon eventually forced him into retirement.

Throughout his impressive career, Thomas achieved a remarkable feat by playing an astounding 10,363 consecutive snaps, which is believed to be an NFL record. He valued his presence on the field, recognizing the importance of supporting his teammates who were striving for their futures and livelihoods. Despite personal accomplishments and the option to rest, Thomas felt a deep responsibility to be a reliable and consistent force for his team, knowing that their success often depended on his contributions.

As a left tackle, Thomas showcased near-perfect performance. Despite facing numerous changes in coaching staff and starting quarterbacks, and enduring a lack of team success with only one winning season, he still managed to earn six All-Pro selections and participate in 10 Pro Bowls.

Former Browns general manager Phil Savage, who drafted Thomas with the third overall pick in 2007, commended his remarkable achievement. Despite the ever-changing circumstances around him, Thomas maintained an unwavering commitment to his craft, showcasing an exceptional level of discipline.

In the lead-up to his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, on August 5, ESPN delved into Thomas’ illustrious career. It revealed his relentless pursuit of perfection, which both amazed and occasionally vexed his teammates. Additionally, it shed light on his quirky wardrobe choices and unwavering love and passion for Cleveland, a city that even the iconic Peyton Manning couldn’t overshadow.

The untold stories of Hall of Fame tackle Joe Thomas
The untold stories of Hall of Fame tackle Joe Thomas / getty 

 

Thomas drew a parallel between his pursuit of perfection and the renowned 97-year-old Michelin chef, Jiro Ono, featured in the 2011 documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.”

“For 70 years, he’s been doing the exact same thing the exact same way every single day,” Thomas explained. “If you’re obsessed with the detail and the accomplishment of doing it exactly the same and perfect every time, you’ll find the joy in that.”

Much like the sushi chef, Thomas was fixated on the smallest of details.

“He always wore the baggiest game pants,” recalled Browns All-Pro left guard Joel Bitonio, who spent four seasons playing alongside Thomas. “Everybody in the locker room is like, ‘What are you wearing? You have no swag.’ And finally he told me, ‘You ever look at a ninja? Are their clothes tight?’ He believed tight pants hindered his performance. So he had a method to his madness.”

Thomas also had a unique approach to his cleats, spraying the inside with pre-tape spray typically used for ankles.

“I was pulling to the left and had planted my foot, but my foot slipped within my shoe,” Thomas recounted. “I couldn’t tie my shoes any tighter. The cleats didn’t slip, so nobody would’ve noticed. But I felt my feet slip just a millimeter in my shoe, and it caused me to react slowly to a linebacker running underneath. I said, ‘I’ll never let that happen again.'”

Thanks to Thomas’s influence, both Bitonio and Browns All-Pro right guard Wyatt Teller, who joined the team after Thomas’ retirement, adopted the habit of spraying the inside of their cleats.

“I don’t know if it actually helps me or not,” Bitonio admitted. “But I was like, ‘All right, if Joe Thomas is doing it, I’m going to do it, too.'”

The untold stories of Hall of Fame tackle Joe Thomas
The untold stories of Hall of Fame tackle Joe Thomas / getty

The untold stories of Hall of Fame tackle Joe Thomas

As Joe Thomas’ career advanced, he meticulously expanded his pre-practice and pregame routines, adding numerous items to his checklist.

“By Year 11, it took me four hours to get ready for a game because I had so many little things I was doing,” Thomas shared. “Honestly, it was mentally wearing me out towards the end. But there was no way I was going on the field without checking every single one of those little boxes.”

Even if others objected, Thomas remained resolute in his dedication.

“The coach would get annoyed with me because I would have to leave meetings early,” Thomas recalled. “I’d tell them, ‘I’ve got to start getting ready for practice.’ I wore two knee sleeves, so I’d be spraying the inside of them and applying baby powder because they were too sticky to get over my hair and legs. It was just one little thing after another.

“But once I was all put together like the tin man, I felt invincible.”

The attention to these seemingly small details proved pivotal in his ability to never leave the field.

“The precision with which I prepared myself for a game,” Thomas explained, “from how I tightened my chin strap, went through my wrist tape with my thumb guards, and meticulously taped my ankles and put on my shoes and socks… I even had custom-made inserts for the soles of my feet. As a result, I never experienced those moments where you see players struggling with their equipment—shoes popping off, helmets flying, or chinstraps coming unbuckled.

“I had thought about every little detail a million times. No strange or unexpected occurrence was going to cause me to miss a single play.”

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