Joe Thomas, NFL offensive lineman, recently completed his tenth professional season–all have been with the Cleveland Browns. In those ten seasons, Thomas has been named to the Pro Bowl, the NFL’s version of an all-star game, all ten seasons. With that type of consistency at a position that serves as a jumpstart for any offensive attack, one might imagine great success for the franchise. However, only one of those seasons has yielded a winning record for the Browns, and for the duration of the past decade, they have produced a feeble record of 48-112.
Let that sink in for a moment. 48-112 equates to a winning percentage of exactly .300, a career batting average that would land any major league baseball player in the Cooperstown Hall of Fame–but for the Brown’s, the only hall-worthy hope has been sustained by the play of Thomas. And yet if you asked most people what they know of Cleveland and its sporting prowess, they are likely to rattle off names like Jim Brown, Otto Graham, Tris Speaker, Bob Feller, and LeBron James. But what about arguably the most loyal and undeniably highly productive Thomas? After all, he has stayed with the franchise through six different coaches, and of the Browns’ 26 starting quarterbacks since 1999, Thomas has seen a bulk of them rise and crumble under the seemingly cursed role. Still, Thomas, a rare breed of talent with a superstar resume, has elected time and time again to remain a Cleveland Brown.
48-112. I would have left early in my NFL tenure if I were Thomas, but as he said with great conviction in a October 2016 interview with Dan Labbe, “…my mission is not yet complete here” (Cleveland.com). He is referencing the movement to help create a winning team and culture in Cleveland, and he desperately wants to be a part of that–however long it may take. I guess what resonates with me is his loyalty through relatively tough times. He has seen multiple former teammates move on to other teams and achieve great success, but he has stayed true to the team that placed enough confidence in his abilities to make him the overall number three draft pick in his class–an honor reserved for few. In a way, he is the franchise, and in a way, he exists outside of its recent disrepair and turmoil.
Among the myriad of ways that the Cleveland Browns and Joe Thomas’ role within the franchise can be interpreted, I do know one thing: I want to look back on my life and be able to say that I stayed true to my values and loyal to my family, especially amid troublesome times that challenged our resolve. He may not have the legacy or fame of Jim Brown or LeBron James, but Joe Thomas is unequivocally one of Cleveland’s greatest unsung legends.
Friends show their love in times of trouble, not in happiness.