Joe Thomas’ “second act“ was not going to be easy, simply because of what he accomplished as an NFL player. Thomas was a perennial Pro Bowl left tackle during an 11-season career, all with the Browns, from 2007 through 2017. He played a mind-boggling 10,363 consecutive snaps at one point. A bronze bust will be on display soon enough at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
How could Thomas replicate that level of accomplishment, that type of rush, in retirement? Thomas’ answer would be that he couldn’t — but it doesn’t mean he can’t have a blast. These days, Thomas, who played at a bulky 325 pounds on a 6-foot-6-inch frame, is looking lean and feeling healthy at just over 255 pounds.
His calendar is packed with everything from calling Browns preseason games to media engagements, hunting and fishing, and even some grilling at family gatherings. He is slated to be the emcee of the annual Greater Cleveland Sports Awards on Jan. 25 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. In a recent chat, the brown-and-orange legend shares why, in some respects, he wouldn't trade retirement for anything.
Cleveland Magazine: Do you miss playing?
Joe Thomas: I certainly miss parts of it. If I could still play, I would love to. There’s no better way to make a living than playing in the NFL. Being in that locker room, grinding day in and day out, the commitment that it takes, and then … the payoff on Sundays of success or failure. There’s no gray area: If you put in the work, it shows up on Sunday. Then you get to do it all over again the next week. I loved playing, there’s no doubt about it. Obviously, I don’t miss the pain or the injuries, things like that. When you struggle as a team or personally, it hurts a lot. But it makes success that much sweeter.
CM: What ultimately made you decide it was time?
JT: I knew I couldn’t do it physically anymore. I was just suffering so much physically my last couple of years. It was constantly on my mind, and it was affecting my outlook on life. Anybody who has been in really chronic pain I’m sure can empathize a little bit with that. I’ve always been pretty good about accepting the reality as quickly as possible, and I realized that nothing was going to change with my own health — my left knee, specifically. So I am totally at peace with not playing because I’ve definitely enjoyed the things that retirement has brought, namely spending more time with my family and friends and being able to focus on things I love that I didn’t get to do when I was playing.
CM: While still playing, did you put together a plan for retirement that included NFL Network analyst?
JT: I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, other than spend more time with my family and friends. And I also wanted to get more into hobbies such as hunting and fishing and other outdoors stuff. I sort of fell into the media world. I enjoy doing it.
CM: The analyst job on Browns radio, alongside Jim Donovan, came open after last season when Doug Dieken retired. You were the heavy favorite to replace Diek — if you wanted it. Nathan Zegura got the job and has done well.
JT: I don’t want to make it seem like it was my job and I turned it down and Nathan got it, because I love what Nathan does. But it was easy for me to pass and give way to somebody who can give it the time and commitment it deserves.
I talked with the Haslams about that job, and I told them from the heart that it’s my dream job. But unfortunately, my time is too limited to be able to commit to it the way I need and the way the job deserves. So it was an easy call. I would love it if I were living a different life.
I played 11 years in the NFL so I could coach my daughter on the weekends in basketball and volleyball and go on trips with my family on weekends. I wanted to see my friends on Saturday and Sunday. I wanted to watch the [Wisconsin] Badgers on Saturday.
CM: What is one food you eat in retirement that you didn’t eat as a player?
JT: That would be a food group: vegetables. Lots of vegetables. I hardly ever ate vegetables when I was playing because I didn’t want to waste any space in my stomach on things that weren’t high in calories. I needed to be full, and I needed to be full of carbs. Now it’s the opposite challenge.
CM: Being the emcee of anything typically requires some humor. You are a naturally funny guy. Do you feel pressure to be funny at the GCSA?
JT: Anytime you feel pressure to be funny, it probably doesn’t play very well. I definitely feel pressure to facilitate everybody having a good time. Hopefully, we can do it with humor, but it’s also important to be serious out of respect for the athletes and what they’ve accomplished. I want everybody to find it entertaining.
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