On October 23, 2017 one of the most underappreciated and impressive athletic streaks came to an unceremonious end as Wisconsin native and future Hall of Fame left tackle Joe Thomas left a game versus the Tennessee Titans with a torn triceps muscle.
Thomas has been a staple of the offensive line in Cleveland since being selected third overall back in 2007 and he hadn’t missed a snap (10,363, if you’re counting at home), let alone a game during that 11-year period.

The last thing that a lineman wants is notoriety but Thomas’ greatness amongst an orange and brown cornucopia of catastrophe is astounding. During his 167-game career, Thomas earned nearly every accolade he could from Pro Bowl invitations to All-Pro nominations. He’s been a technician as he protected the blindside of dozens of quarterbacks and allowed only 39.25 sacks with only 61 total penalties.

The 6’7″ 311 pound mountain of a man has toiled away year in and year out doing yeoman’s work while the rest of the team, staff and ownership, have been a bewildering disgrace to the 216. Joe Thomas is the single most concrete, steady part of the Cleveland Browns franchise in over 20 years. New coaches, new quarterbacks, new GM’s and even new owners…same old Joe.

Sidebar: It is unfathomable that the Browns remain this bad this long when the board has been wiped clean at the OWNERSHIP level at least three times in two decades. This is hands down the worst operated franchise in at best in major American professional sports and at worse the universe. Even more troubling, most fans don’t even realize the Cleveland Browns were once the New England Patriots of their day.

Joe Thomas will eventually find himself in the pantheon of great linemen like Walter Jones, Jonathon Ogden and Anthony Munoz but will likely never know that same level of team success due in part to obscenely bad luck. The Browns have gone 48-119 during Thomas’ career, good for a .287 win percentage.

We at HHSR tried to find an adequate analog for Thomas’ predicament in sports and found no true equal imbalance between a sure fire hall of fame talent providing no significant positive impact on winning. Admittedly, some of the difficulty is the uniquely specialized nature of both football as a sport and Thomas’ position. Thomas has been a nigh impenetrable fortress on the left side but defenses can always outflank him and attack elsewhere along the line. Also to keep it a hunnid, if your quarterback is a bum it won’t matter if the Incredible Hulk is manning the left tackle position—your team is going absolutely nowhere.

Outside of the NFL names like Carmelo Anthony, Rick Nash, Eric Lindross, Tracy McGrady and DeMarcus Cousins come to mind as similar stories but Ernie Banks aka “Mr. Cub” might be the closest unlucky soul to Thomas, playing 19 years (1953-1971) for a Chicago Cubs team that never once made the playoffs…except Thomas has rarely even had winning seasons (one, if you’re counting at home).

No one ever said life was fair and while Joe Thomas has gotten wealthy thanks to his hard work, perseverance and toughness, you can’t help but feel some amount of pity for knowing that it’s unlikely that he reaches the pinnacle of his profession, or even just the first stage of team success. It may be premature to close the book on his career as it’s unclear whether or not we’ve seen the last of him on the gridiron, but one can rest assured we’ll see him take a short drive down to Canton, Ohio when it’s all said and done.

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