His Browns career began on a boat. On Wednesday, Joe Thomas pulled into the dock to begin a life away from football.
In the 11 years that separated these two moments, Thomas never let a second -- let alone a single snap -- go to waste.
Thomas, the 10-time Pro Bowl left tackle who personified excellence on and off the field for 11 seasons in Cleveland, announced his retirement Wednesday afternoon.
"This was an extremely difficult decision, but the right one for me and my family," Thomas said. "Playing in the NFL has taken a toll on my body and I can no longer physically compete at the level I need to."
"From the moment I was drafted, the city embraced me in a way that I could never fully describe. I am proud to call Cleveland home. The loyalty and passion of the fans is unmatched and it was an honor to play in front of them from the past 11 years. I would like to thank all of the coaches, teammates, staff, fans and everyone who has shown me support throughout my career. Even though I will be hanging up my cleats, I will always be a Cleveland Brown."
Pro Bowls, consecutive starts, All-Pro teams -- the honors and achievements Thomas racked up throughout his 11 seasons with the Browns make up a laundry list of reasons for why Thomas' next stop will assuredly be in Canton at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. One number, though, will stick with him forever.
[BY THE NUMBERS: Joe Thomas leaves behind an unmatched legacy]( Joe Thomas leaves behind an unmatched legacy)
From the very first snap of his career -- a 2-yard run by Jamal Lewis against the Steelers -- to his 10,000th -- a 9-yard run by Isaiah Crowell in Baltimore -- to his final one Oct. 22, against the Titans, Thomas never let up. Through aches and pains, ligament tears and more, Thomas never missed a play over a span that featured 10,363 of them.
"You don't let your mind tell you that you can't do that because your mind tells you a lot of times in any game, I can't do it anymore," Thomas said in a 2017 interview. "You've got to push through it and kind of block out that part of your mind that says you can't do it anymore.
"You get a lot of times when your limbs kind of go numb and they start tingling or you get a little stinger or your knee feels twisted up and messed up. You always think I've got 30 seconds to make this thing feel better and by the time the next play starts you usually forget about it. That's kind of carried over for the rest of my career."
The Browns will enshrine that number in the Ring of Honor during a home game this season.
"Joe has been a pillar of our organization and one of the greatest to put on a Cleveland Browns uniform," Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam said. "We want to thank him for everything he has done for the Browns and the Northeast Ohio community. We should all strive for the standard Joe has set to always be available, put the team above yourself and always give maximum effort. One of the first ways we will acknowledge and honor his accomplishments is to enshrine the number 10,363 to recognize his consecutive snaps streak in the team's Ring of Honor at a home game this season. It also won't be long before he takes his rightful place down the road in Canton at the Pro Football Hall of Fame."
Joe Thomas announces his retirement. Take a look back at the 11 seasons he spent with the Browns.
A torn triceps put an end to the streak and, effectively, Thomas' final season with the Browns. The seemingly unthinkable stretch, which consisted of 167 consecutive games, is believed to be the longest consecutive snaps streak in NFL history.
"Joe means so much to me both personally and professionally," Browns coach Hue Jackson said. "Joe has been not just a tremendous Cleveland Brown, but one of the best to ever play in the National Football League. I appreciate everything he has done for this organization and not just on the field, his leadership and what he brought to the locker room, as a coach you couldn't ask for a better captain than Joe Thomas. He earned the respect of teammates and peers around the league for the way he worked. To play 10,363 consecutive snaps, what a tremendous accomplishment. I don't know if something like that will ever be matched again."
When Thomas earned his 10th Pro Bowl nod at the end of the 2016 season, he became the fifth player and the only lineman in NFL history to be selected to the Pro Bowl each of his first 10 seasons, joining Pro Football Hall of Famers Barry Sanders, Lawrence Taylor, Mel Renfro and Merlin Olsen. Thomas' 10 Pro Bowls are a team record, surpassing Hall of Famers Jim Brown (nine) and Lou Groza (nine). Thomas was the longest tenured member of the Browns and was selected to the Associated Press All-Pro team eight times, including six first-team honors.
Thomas, a Brookfield, Wisconsin, native embraced Cleveland from the moment he arrived as the No. 3 pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. In one of the draft's most memorable moments, Thomas took the call from Cleveland not in New York City, but on a boat while he fished with his dad in Lake Michigan.
Thomas embodied the city's work ethic on the field and gave back every way he could away from it.
He is the only player in team history to earn the Walter Payton Man of the Year distinction multiple times (2010, 2012 and 2016), and was selected as one of three finalists for the 2012 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year award. He is also the only player in team history to be voted as the PFWA Dino Lucarelli Good Guy award winner multiple times (2010 and 2013), an award for cooperation with the media and community involvement. In addition, Thomas was named the Browns Player of the Year by the local PFWA in 2014 and 2016 and was a finalist for the 2017 NFL Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award.
The Browns' 2016 and 2017 Salute to Service Award recipient, Thomas has been highly involved in the team's programs supporting military members and their families since joining Cleveland. In 2010, he embarked on a 10,000-mile, week-long trip to visit troops stationed throughout the Middle East as part of the NFL/USO Tour. Thomas has also engaged in multiple military appreciation opportunities through the team's First and Ten program as well as creating a season ticket program, "Thomas' Troops," which provides members of the USO of Northern Ohio who are deployed or will soon be deployed and their families free tickets throughout the season for each Browns home game.
Thomas and his wife, Annie, have impacted countless lives as major contributors to the Cleveland Kids in Need Resource Center, the Providence House, the Cleveland Browns Courage House, the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, the Cleveland Animal Protective League (APL) and numerous other organizations.
"I have watched Joe from afar throughout his career," said General Manager John Dorsey. "I have nothing but respect for the way he has carried himself and the amazing things he has accomplished. He has played this game at an extremely high level. Joe is a heck of a football player and an even better man."