A bittersweet afternoon in Berea gave way to laughs, tears and cheers as the Browns honored Joe Thomas.
Cleveland paid homage to Thomas, who announced his retirement last week following 11 seasons, and honored his Hall-of-Fame caliber career Monday in an emotional news conference held inside the Casey Coleman Field House.
"Today is obviously a sad and yet happy day for the City of Cleveland and the Cleveland Browns," owner Jimmy Haslam said. "I feel very strongly that, as recognized as he was during his career, people will really begin to appreciate what he accomplished in his 10-plus years with the Cleveland Browns, both on and off the field."
Thomas, who stepped away because of accumulating injuries over the years, was named to a team-record 10 Pro Bowls and played 10,363 consecutive snaps since being drafted third overall in 2007.
The always-gracious, sometimes self-deprecating Thomas described the gathering — which included his family, teammates, coaches, and team staff members throughout the organization — as a "pep rally that you had in high school where you're excited about it because you get to miss that pop quiz in math class. But other than that, you just hope that you get out in a time to catch the buses."
Those moments of levity were met with more sentimental ones.
Thomas, who suffered a season-ending triceps injury against the Titans in October, grew emotional when learning the team's Player of the Year Award, voted on by members of the local news media, will be renamed in his honor. He also spoke of being moved by former teammates and competitors reaching out to him over the past week. "They were talking about how they looked up to me, the way I played and I carried myself," he said. "That meant a lot to me."
"To read those things, I can tell you," he continued, "I went through lot of boxes of Kleenex over the last week."
The number 10,363, the number of consecutive snaps Thomas played over 11 seasons will be forever displayed inside FirstEnergy Stadium as a tribute to his toughness in the team's Ring of Honor. His durability, of course, is just one of several dynamics that make the left tackle a larger than life figure in Cleveland.
Thomas was a constant presence in the community despite constant change and a force for good, using his platform to lift up those around him, whether it was his work with the USO of Northern Ohio, the Greater Cleveland Food Bank or The Providence House.
Thomas, who said he's entertained the idea of either coaching or a broadcast role in the future, said he wants to remain involved with the Browns going forward.
"I don't know what that position is going to look like yet," he said, "but hopefully we can do something and then I can still be a part of the game and be a part of the team."
The Browns, at the very least, made clear Monday he'll never be forgotten.