By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
The Morning Kickoff …
Super Joe?: Individually, there’s nothing more for Joe Thomas to accomplish in the NFL.
Six seasons, six Pro Bowls. Never missed a snap in an NFL game.
On the field, he has been honored for his textbook fundamentals at the left tackle position. Thomas is the highest-paid player on the Browns and the highest-paid offensive lineman in the NFL. Off the field, he was named one of three finalists for the prestigious Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award last year. Out of respect to Thomas, owner Jimmy Haslam attended the press conference at the Super Bowl to announce him as a finalist.
But there is a huge void in the career of Thomas, of course.
“I think about the day of me running out of the tunnel in Cleveland Browns Stadium for a home playoff game. That’s my dream. That’s why I show up every day,” he said.
Thomas was the NFL’s No. 3 overall draft pick in 2007. His rookie season, with Rob Chudzinski as a rookie offensive coordinator, the Browns went 10-6. Since then they have gone 4-12, 5-11, 5-11, 4-12 and 5-11. Add it all up and the Browns have a record of 33-63 with a future Pro Football Hall of Fame left tackle anchoring their offensive line.
“The individual stuff is nice, but it’s not important to me, per se, because the fun in this game is winning and I want to go to the playoffs,” Thomas said. “I’ve never gone to the playoffs. Only one winning season so far. That’s my motivating factor to show up every day.”
Welcome to the NFL: After a 10-6 rookie season in 2007, Thomas had high hopes for the Browns. The prolific offensive team prompted then-owner Randy Lerner to give contract extensions to GM Phil Savage, coach Romeo Crennel, Chudzinski and quarterback Derek Anderson.
“Obviously, at the end of that year I was thinking we’re going to be even better next year and have a better offense because we had everybody coming back until we had a bunch of injuries,” he said. “I remember Braylon (Edwards) got injured in training camp. It seemed one thing after another with injuries. We started poorly and never could recover.
“I think Romeo and Phil were told before the last game (they were fired). Everyone knew it was getting blown up 10 games in.
“It was new for me. One bad year. I never went through a coach getting fired. That was sort of a welcome to the NFL moment. Now, four coaches later …
“That 2008 year, 4-12, it really teaches you that even if you’re out of the playoffs, with no chance of making the playoffs, you still have a job to do and have to show up every day and give your best. It doesn’t matter what your record is. For good or for bad, that’s been the approach I’ve taken since then. Unfortunately, we’ve had more seasons where you have to focus on that than kind of being able to enjoy the ride and playing because you’re in the playoff hunt, which is fun.”
Mr. Optimistic: As a Browns rookie, Thomas experienced the Cavaliers’ run to the NBA Finals in the 2007-08 season. He could feel how that team energized the city. He has been around long enough now to know what a similar run by the Browns would mean.
“When the Cavs went to the finals, that was cool, but this is such a football town, it would mean so much to everybody. It would be unbelievable,” he said. “That’s one of those things that I try to talk to the young guys about and let them understand how important this team is to this city.
“We could be legends if we bring this organization back to where it was a couple decades ago, or even win a Super Bowl. You’d never buy another drink, you’d never buy another dinner the rest of your life if you won a Super Bowl here.
“Those are the things having Chud -- who grew up (in Toledo) -- is great because he can help relate the passion and the intensity of the Cleveland Browns fans to this team.”
For the record, Thomas is optimistic that this newest regime – the fourth in Thomas’ seven years – will be the one to right the ship and steer the Browns to future glory.
“I’m excited about Chud as a head coach and very hopeful this is the team with this group of guys and coaching staff that is going to get to the playoffs and I’m going to be able to enjoy that at least in the second half of my career here,” he said.
I asked Thomas how big a void would there be if the Browns didn’t make the playoffs during his career.
“It’d be hard,” he said. “I grew up playing football since I was 12 years old. At every level, I’ve been on winning teams. I never experienced a losing season since my second year in the NFL. Obviously, that would be a huge disappointment, just because it’s no fun playing in the NFL when you’re going 4-12 every year. It’s drudgery. It’s like covering a team that’s 4-12. It sucks.”
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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