BEREA (92.3 The Fan) – When Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig’s ‘iron man’ consecutive games streak in 1995, it was said that record would never be broken.
It’s conceivable that the same could be said about Browns left tackle Joe Thomas’ consecutive snaps streak.
On Sunday in Baltimore, Thomas will quickly surpass 10,000 consecutive snaps as he enters the game 4 away at 9,996.
“I always felt that the team and my teammates relied on me to be out there and no matter what the conditions were or what situation the team was in,” Thomas said Thursday. “I always felt like it was my job to be out there. So unless I absolutely couldn’t do it, I was going to be out there for those guys.”
Thomas doesn’t like talking about the streak, but it’s one of few things the Browns can actually be proud of in the expansion era.
“I don’t really think about it too much,” Thomas said. “I’m sure when my career is over and it’s all said and done, maybe I’ll have more time to reflect back on those things. But right now, it’s sort of a novelty thing that people talk to me about. It’s difficult for me to really think about it and kind of grasp.”
In recent years as the team has gotten younger, Thomas has emerged as a leader and the face of the franchise.
Thomas hosts ‘The Joe Thomas Hour,’ a popular video skit on the team’s website where he asks his teammates a variety of questions, often times that have little to do with football and that put them in awkward situations like having them dance or sing.
“He’s a great leader for us. He’s a great friend, a great guy in the locker room,” linebacker Christian Kirksey said.
In his 11th season with the Browns, Thomas has had plenty of reason to take time off or call it quits. But he doesn’t.
The Browns have gone 48-113 since he was selected third overall in the 2007 NFL Draft, and that includes a 10-6 rookie campaign that saw the team just miss out on the playoffs. He’s played for 6 head coaches, offensive coordinators (not including Pat Shurmur and Hue Jackson serving as their own coordinators) and GMs as well.
Then there are the injuries.
Thomas has played through at least 3 torn MCLs, 2 high ankle sprains and a torn LCL. And those are just the ones that we know of.
“What he has done and how he has done it is remarkable to me,” Browns head coach Hue Jackson said. “We are talking about a guy who has never missed a snap. That is kind of unheard of. I see guys come out for things where I go, ‘Whoa’. Now, it amazes me if anybody ever comes out of a game having been around Joe Thomas and seeing what he has done. I think our players see that, too. I think a lot of that rubs off in our locker room. You talk about a guy who is an iron man? That is a true iron man.”
The only time that Thomas thought about coming out of a game or missing a snap was when he tore his LCL at Pittsburgh in the 2012 season finale.
“He’s a machine and it’s a pretty cool accomplishment,” left guard Joel Bitonio said. “I played next to him for probably a couple thousand of them. It’s just pretty cool to be a part of that. It’s probably one of the few records that no one’s ever had before. So it’s a cool one for sure.”
Thomas has also blocked for 19 different starting quarterbacks – Charlie Frye, Derrick Anderson, Ken Dorsey, Brady Quinn, Brice Gradkowski, Jake Delhomme, Seneca Wallace, Colt McCoy, Brandon Weeden, Thad Lewis, Brian Hoyer, Jason Campbell, Johnny Manziel, Brian Shaw, Josh McCown, Austin Davis, Robert Griffin III, Cody Kessler and DeShone Kizer.
He’s also blocked for another 5 that have taken snaps at the position: Josh Cribbs, Josh Johnson, Charlie Whitehurst, Terrelle Pryor and Kevin Hogan.
“It is unbelievable,” rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, who hopes to be the last QB that Thomas has to ever block for, said. “I don’t know if I have taken 10,000 snaps ever of football in my life, and he has done it in the NFL. Obviously, he is a unicorn and he is going to have a gold coat coming soon. To be here alongside of him and to be a small piece of what he has been able to do in this league is an honor for me.”
Thomas has made the Pro Bowl in each of his 10 seasons, surpassing Hall of Famers Jim Brown and Lou Groza, and he currently holds the active mark in the league for consecutive Pro Bowl berths, 2 more than Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
But the thing Thomas wants more than anything is to play in January, at home, in the playoffs.
“That would mean everything,” Thomas said. “Playing for 11 years, the goal has always been to get to the playoffs, have a home playoff game at FirstEnergy Stadium. I think that experience and that feeling would be like any other in my athletic career and I think it would be something that I would easily consider the highlight of my NFL career.”
Because he plays in Cleveland on a team that doesn’t win, Thomas doesn’t get the national notoriety he deserves but he has the respect of opponents.
“He is an ultra-consistent player at a high level,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said this week. “He always knows what to do. He never really makes a mistake. He is a great mover, strong, gifted guy always, but the other thing is you can always tell his leadership that he exudes out there. I’m ready for him to get into the Hall of Fame consideration. You can’t be voted in the Hall of Fame when you’re still playing, right? I think he should consider making a move towards the Hall of Fame and retire because we are getting tired of playing against him, but he is a great player and a great guy.”