Class of 2023
Consecutive snaps played
NFL All-Decade Team
Full name: Joseph Hayden Thomas
Birthdate: Dec. 4, 1984
Birthplace: Brookfield, Wisconsin
High school: Brookfield Central (Brookfield, Wisconsin)
Pro career: 11 seasons, 167 games.
Drafted: First round (3rd overall) in 2007 by Cleveland Browns
Uniform number: 73
Kiddos, Annie, thank you for that unbelievable introduction. That was so special and heartfelt.
Got to start by saying thank you to the Hall of Fame voters, to Canton, and to the people of the great state of Ohio.
Congratulations to my fellow enshrinees. It's really impossible to describe the feeling standing up here in front of all of your childhood idols, many of whom hung from the walls on posters when you were a kid in your bedroom.
It's just an incredible feeling, and I'm not sure if it will ever feel like we actually belong in this incredibly elite club of the greatest of all time football players.
And I want to start by quickly talking about a random number, 10,363.
It's not too random, but that's how many consecutive snaps I had during my career. And from my first snap as a rookie in 2007 to my last snap when I tore my triceps tendon, that's how long this journey has been.
That number, 10,363, is special to me in a lot of ways, and not just because it's an NFL record, but because it shows that I was there for my brothers 10,363 times in a row.
They could count on me. Being an offensive lineman is all about being a servant and showing up for everybody else. Loyalty, consistency, doing something bigger than yourself, showing up for the man next to you, those are the values that I learned at an early age, and those are the values that I took onto the football field.
I was so lucky throughout my career. Obviously, to be able to play more than 10,000 snaps in a row, there's a lot of luck: no chin straps breaking, no shoelaces going untied, no little cramps, no contacts falling out. Got Lasix my rookie year so that wouldn't happen.
But really I feel like the thing I was the most lucky from during my career and my life was the family that raised me, my friends that were a part of this journey, my coaches that taught me the details of this sport, and many others, my teachers who cared for me and cared about me, my teammates who showed me the same love and compassion that I tried to show them.
Certainly, wouldn't be on this stage here today without all those people that have helped shape me into the player that I was and the man that I am today.
And that starts, Mom and Dad.
Whoever that person was in your life for you growing up that instilled those values that you hold with you your entire life become the most important people in your life to set the course in the direction that your ship is headed, and for me it was Eric and Sally Thomas, my parents.
Dad, can't look at you. I'm going to cry. Stop it. I watch you go to work every single day, no matter what. No matter the circumstances, there was no complaints. It's just what you did. As an offensive lineman, it's just what we do, we go to work.
When I was about knee high to a grasshopper, I remember you strapping cross country skis on your feet and going to work in a blizzard in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, because, you know what, the calendar said it was a workday, and we got work to do. At the time I didn't really know what the quote "availability is the most important ability" meant, but that's exactly what it meant to you, and those are the values that I learned from you, buddy.
I took the lessons like that that I learned from Mom and Dad every time I walked onto that field, and I tried to instill them in my teammates to be the best teammate that I possibly could.
Dad, thank you for that love and thank you for that example that you set for me.
Mom, you taught me to always strive for perfection. Now, growing up, I always had to do my homework and my chores before I could go outside and play. Pretty standard. But you grounded me I'm still holding it against you for an entire semester when I got a C in algebra. Who needs algebra when you're going to go play in the NFL? I tried to tell her that back then, but she wouldn't listen. And it was actually a C plus. So, by the way, details matter, so it wasn't a full C.
I hated it then, but I love it now because that was just a little lesson that you taught me, but it was among a number of crumbs that you gave me growing up that led me to be a perfectionist on and off the field and allowed me to go out for 10 1/2 years and be the best version of myself and the best teammate I could possibly be.
It was those principles that you taught me at home, and sometimes it was you had to beat me with it a little bit, but it was those lessons that I took at home onto that field.
To my sister, Jesse; my brother, Bill; and all my family members that are here, you guys have shaped my life in ways that helped me become an NFL Hall of Famer, which is still a little bit weird for me to say, but I'm Hall of Famer No. 369.
To some of you, there's different meanings for that number, which I'm excited to discuss tonight at my party. But thank you to everybody that was such a huge part of that journey.
To my best friends growing up, Steve Johnson, you always kept me humble. You beat me out my senior year of high school for the Offensive Lineman of the Year in the Greater Metro Conference. Thanks for never letting me forget that. I guess I was just a harder worker than you in college because you ended up being a long snapper, and I'm standing up here with the gold jacket.
I'll let you buy me a beer later.
Ben, Ben Strickland, you always built my confidence up by allowing me to beat the little kid who was fast in those foot races. So, thanks for doing that for me, and thanks for continuing to keep me humble and continuing to have those discussions, those deep rooted discussions that help me in life, with family, with friends, with career paths, that only somebody that I've been best friends with since I was a tiny kid would allow.
I know the fourth member of our Four Musketeers, Luke Homan, is upstairs listening tonight, and I know he's got that player agency contract I signed in middle school still in that wallet. So hopefully he doesn't come for his three percent at any time soon.
To my Badger coaches, Barry Alvarez, Bret Bielema, Paul Chryst, you guys helped turn an 18 year old boy who was 250 pounds into a man. You showed me how to be a teammate that people could count on. You always said, "Count on me," and that was my motto. It still is my motto to this day.
To my offensive line coaches Jim Hueber, Bob Palcic, Steve Marshall, Mike Sullivan, George Warhop, Andy Moeller, George DeLeone, Hal Hunter, Mark Hutson, Bob Wylie you guys taught me the technique and that sense of urgency that, as an offensive lineman, we can't win the game on any one play, but we sure as hell can lose a game on one play, especially when you're going against a guy like, right there, DeMarcus Ware, because he'll wreck your game in one play. Pucker factor is a real deal when you're an offensive lineman. Every play matters.
To my six NFL head coaches, Romeo Crennel I know, six. Can you believe that? I had nine offensive coordinators in only eleven years.
Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Pat Shurmur, Rob Chudzinski, Mike Patton, Hue Jackson, each one of you guys gave me something on the field and off the field that I've taken with me, and I'll take with me the rest of my life.
To my quarterbacks, all of them, 20. Yes. I blocked for more different starting quarterbacks than any player in NFL history. What an honor.
(Cheers and applause.)
Woof, woof, woof, woof, woof.
No matter who was back there or what our circumstances were, which sometimes were tough some of them were your fault, I'm not going to lie, but I won't call out which ones you guys still laid it all on the line for your team, and that was always very special to me.
And, hey, if you ever had a good left tackle, you may have survived more than one season or one game, in some cases, or you may have even survived long enough for me to learn your name. Sorry, Josh Johnson.
To my fellow offensive linemen, we were in the trenches when it was 95 degrees in August, when it was December and there were snowstorms flying off the beaches of Lake Erie, whipping around Cleveland Browns Stadium. The misery that bonds offensive linemen as brothers for life, it's something that people who've never played the position can't really understand. It really is a mushroom club.
To my mushrooms, Alex Mack, Jason Pinkston, Mitchell Schwartz, John Greco, Hank Fraley, Eric Steinbach, Joel Bitonio, just to name a few of the guys that I played next to, thank you. Thank you for always showing up for me. Thank you for giving me the ability to always count on you guys.
(Cheers and applause.)
If you noticed, I didn't mention any of my backup left tackles. I'm sorry about that. Never gave you an opportunity to go on the field and show what you could do. But I did make you take all my practice reps, so that the trainers could tape me together, looking like Mr. Potato Head, and they could wheel me out on Sundays and somehow get through 69 plays, only to try to do it again the next week.
To all my other teammates, it's truly an honor to have shared a locker room with you. The best times in our life, and I'm sure many of these people up here, these legends, would say the exact same thing: That environment you share with the locker room and those teammates that are in there are bonds that you'll take with you for the rest of your life, and that will never be matched.
To the Cleveland Browns.
Woof, woof, woof, woof, woof, woof, woof.
The voice is going a little bit, so my bark is not as good. Maybe my bark is not as good as my bite anymore. But appreciate you guys. I'm fiercely proud to have spent my entire career in Cleveland with you guys.
What made my time in Cleveland so great and so memorable has been, without a doubt, the support staff that's in Berea, Ohio, which is the best in the NFL.
To Jenner and Renee in the community relations room, you guys gave me that opportunity to go to schools and use my platform as an NFL player to talk to young kids. And to change lives and to share the three secrets of success that you can take with you in football and life. I know a lot of guys up here probably heard it from their coaches because it came from Parcells, it came from Belichick, it probably came from coaches before that, but if you can be on time, pay attention and work hard, you can find success in football and in life.
Got to thank my guy Brad Melland running the Browns equipment room, keeping me looking as good as a lineman possibly can with baggy ninja pants, which is not that good, but you did your best. I'm sorry I never conformed to the dress code.
Joe Sheehan in the training room, thank you. Somehow you found a way to keep me on the field for 10 1/2 years, every single Sunday through a lot of surgeries and a lot of injuries that nobody ever heard about.
To Peter Jean Baptiste and Dan Murphy and the PR staff for helping me to usually avoid those land mines when you're speaking with the media. It's not always easy when you finish your career on a 1 31 heater. But you guys were incredible mentors to me and incredible teachers in dealing with the media and also helping understand how the media is a conduit to the fans. And in Cleveland, we got some good fans. So that was pretty easy.
To everyone with the Browns organization, from Miss Jackie in the cafeteria to Miss Carol at reception to Dmitro and my Ukrainian buddies on the custodial staff, Happy Friday. What made Berea special for me, it was always the people inside those walls. It was the joy that I got experiencing that selfless team attitude every single day.
Whether it was walking through the front entrance and being greeted with a smile at the security desk or shooting the breeze with the grounds crew way behind the back fields, no matter your role with the Browns, no matter your perceived importance, you guys all show up for each other like perfect teammates. We could always count on you. Because, on a true team, no job is more important than any other. It was inspiring for me to see the values lived out on a daily basis through the work that you guys did in and around Berea and in and around Cleveland Browns Stadium.
To Jimmy and Dee Haslam and to the Whitney and JW Johnson family, you guys have built a first class organization in Cleveland, and the success is right around the corner, and I cannot wait to be the biggest fan when it comes.
(Cheers and applause.)
Your investment in Cleveland and all of Ohio has made us Browns players fall in love with the city and with this great team and this historic franchise.
To Browns fans, the most loyal group of people I know.
And I don't think it's going to be argued by anybody. Although, I will say, on behalf of me and the other enshrinees, I think this might be one of the most well attended enshrinement days of all time, and that's a testament to the fan bases and the greatness of the other folks that were enshrined with me today.
But in Cleveland, even if we were losing, you guys were there on Sundays, barking in the Dawg Pound and partying in the Muni Lot. You guys are the heartbeat of the Cleveland Browns, and it was truly my honor to be able to represent you on and off the field for 11 seasons.
To Phil Savage, who was the Browns GM when I decided to skip the NFL draft and go fishing with my dad like a derelict, thanks for taking a chance on me. You could have drafted a bunch of other Hall of Famers because that 2007 class, we got a lot of pride, and there's many more Hall of Famers that are coming after today.
Cleveland, you guys, you understood me from day one. When I stepped off that plane, Randy Lerner's private jet, smelling like fish guts, probably the first time he ever had fish guts in his plane, I felt like I was at home. And for me the values and the priorities in Northeast Ohio were the same, and that's what made me fall in love the second I got there: family, faith and football.
To my wife, Annie.
You've always been my rock. Your support has always been unshakable. You were that person that when I would come home and I was frustrated and I gave up a sack or had a bad practice, and you just looked at me and you knew that I didn't want to talk about it, you didn't push because that would have been a bad idea because I didn't want to talk about it.
But sometimes when you come home, you need somebody to talk to. You were always that person because you lived through the losses, the injuries, the new coaches, the times when I was too worn out to even speak or lift my head off the pillow. And you were understanding. You were generous. You were the soulmate that I always needed.
And now it's beautiful watching you become the best mother possible for those four beautiful kids that tried to bum rush me on the stage last night and almost knocked me out. Thanks, guys.
Most importantly, though, I'm glad that they look like you and not an offensive lineman like me.
To Logan, Camryn, Jack and Reese, pay attention now. Do you guys remember anything of my career? Logan, you were four when I retired. I think the only thing you probably remember is eating peanuts off the floor at Cleveland Browns Stadium. And if you don't remember that, Mom will tell you because she barely got to watch any of my games because she was picking up after you and trying to feed you peanuts to keep you from crying. But I still love you.
You guys were such a blessing to me during my career. Coming home after a tough day, looking into your faces, you guys would run and give me that big hug, the titan hug, because you just wanted to hang out with Daddy. You didn't care what happened before I walked through that door. You gave me the joy, the happiness, and the purpose to continue on when sometimes I didn't think it was possible.
You guys continue to give me purpose every single day of my life. Thank you.
Finally, I got to thank my agent, Peter Shaffer, not because of what he did for me as a contractual situation but because of the best friend that you were and the guidance that you gave me as my professional advisor through an up and down football career.
That relationship that we built was as strong as rock and allowed me to focus on trying to be the best version of myself on the football field.
I'm grateful to each and every teammate, all the way from Junior Lancer Football when I was in 7th grade, every teacher, coach, and guidance counselor who helped me along the way. And many of them are here today.
Now, Believeland, it's only an hour up the road from here, and I mentioned that I think this is probably the most well attended Hall of Fame enshrinement we've had in a while, and a lot of that is because you guys showed up for me today. And I feel incredibly blessed that I could count on you guys.
(Cheers and applause.)
With that said, it's the greatest honor of my career to be able to accept this lifetime award on behalf of all of Browns Nation.
(Cheers and applause.)
Cleveland, you could always count on me. Thank you so much for allowing me to count on you. Don't forget to keep showing up for each other. God bless the Cleveland Browns, God bless America, and God bless football, the greatest game of all. Thank you.