CLEVELAND, OH – Went fishing on the day of the draw.
This is the story that sticks with Joe Thomas, the former Browns offensive lineman. Make this the latest Cleveland Browns to reach the Hall of Fame.
Most fans know the story. but why?
Because Thomas hated the façade that surrounded the NFL Draft bid. Instead, he wanted to spend a day on the boat on Lake Michigan with his father (Eric Thomas), future father-in-law (Greg Nelson) and his friend (Joe Banos).
The NFL was not happy. The league hinted that Thomas would drop out of the draft because he was skipping the show at New York’s Radio City Music Hall.
“I was one of the first people to turn down this opportunity,” said Thomas. “They said I made a big mistake… and stressed the importance of making marketing deals… and being very popular.”
Thomas didn’t care.
“I didn’t want to have a high profile,” he said. “I’m not the New York type…the league tried to get me to come by saying teams wouldn’t recruit me—it made me sound anti-establishment.”
The NFL even had Wisconsin coach Brett Bielema try to get his player to attend the draft. Impossible, said Thomas to his coach. Eventually, a television camera was allowed on board.
I had no idea Thomas was under so much pressure from the NFL to attend the draft. It also says a lot about the NFL’s turbulent priorities when it comes to the draft.
Thomas was the No. 3 pick in the 2007 draft by former Browns GM Phil Savage, who liked the idea of his future left tackle as a no-brainer on a fishing boat during draft day.
This behind-the-scenes look is the first chapter in “Joe Thomas: Not your average jock.“ It was written by Mark Bona of cleveland.com and Browns Director of Communications Dan Murphy. Thomas collaborated with the project, and it’s an easy read that Brown fans should love.
“I didn’t like the fact that the former players talked about the draft as if it was the pinnacle of their careers,” said Thomas. “And then they can put him on cruise control… like I was already recruited and got paid.”
Thomas later saw this mentality in some of his future Browns teammates. For Thomas, drafting is “just the beginning… when you get to work”. “
Not enough players in orange helmets have received this message.
The book would be good for high school and college athletes to read.
Thomas attended Brookfield Central High School in Wisconsin. He had a grade point average of 3.5, a score of 24 on the ACT test and a 1200 on the SAT test.
Instead of focusing on one sport with NFL dreams driving him, Thomas played football, basketball, and shot at track. He got interest from lower Division I schools to play basketball. He loved being in all teams.
Football brought all the big name college coaches to his school. Eventually it came to Notre Dame and Wisconsin.
He went to Wisconsin because head coach Barry Alvarez and Paul Crist (tight ends coach) met with his family and set a schedule so he could play football in the fall and be on the track team in the spring. Other schools insisted on playing spring football—without a track.
Alvarez even asked Thomas to make sure he played basketball his senior year of high school. Other big-name schools wanted him to skip for fear of injury.
When Thomas chose Wisconsin, he first contacted the other schools he was considering to inform them of his decision. Then call Wisconsin. Too often, recruiters don’t take the time to reach out to schools that have been rejected.
Thomas wanted to enjoy all of his experiences – playing different sports in high school; He threw ball in college, along with playing Big Ten football.
In his senior year at Wisconsin, Thomas took these courses: Finance 300, Real Estate Finance, Business Law, and Real Estate Development. He was a member of the Big Ten All-Academic Team three years in a row and had an internship at Merrill Lynch in Madison.
Why did he mention all this? Because it’s a story you don’t often hear in professional sports.
One of the greatest types of brown
Browns fans know Thomas was a member of the first ballot. They know he played 11 seasons in Cleveland, including 10,363 consecutive snaps.
They know he’s been on terrible teams and he’s been stuck with mostly terrible quarterbacks. In fact, he has played with 20 different midfielders. Thomas remembers a game in Pittsburgh when an outsider appeared in the huddle to replace an injured QB Thad Lewis.
“Who are you?” Thomas asked.
“I’m a quarterback,” said the new guy.
“What is your name?” Thomas asked.
“Josh Johnson,” said the new guy.
“Nice to meet you,” said Thomas. “I’m Joe Thomas, your left tackle.”
Too many players during the Thomas era (2007-2017) deserve to be forgotten.
But not Thomas, who is considered one of the greatest Browns of all time. This book will give you more reason to appreciate it.
Hear me speak: I’ll be at Marvin’s Library Shelby, Ohio on Sept. 25 at 6 p.m It’s free!
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