Browns fans have remembered Joe Thomas as an everlasting pillar of the franchise's history, one who squeezed every droplet of his career into the team and for Cleveland — no matter how difficult times seemed to be.
Five years after his retirement, they can now remember him as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Thomas was officially voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Thursday and became just the seventh modern-era offensive tackle in NFL history to be inducted on his first year of eligibility. He will be the 18th Browns alumnus to be enshrined in Canton.
"We are so proud Joe Thomas will be recognized, appropriately, as a first-ballot Hall of Famer," Dee and Jimmy Haslam said. "Joe epitomized the standard of excellence in everything he did for the Cleveland Browns organization and for our community. He was the essence of all you want in a player, as a teammate and representing the Browns organization. His extraordinary accomplishments and endurance playing 10-plus years without missing a single snap is unparalleled. How he went about his work each day was equally inspiring, the model of consistency, resiliency and class.
"Beyond being one of the best in NFL history, he was just as exceptional off the field. Joe and his wife, Annie have made an impact on so many people in Cleveland and have done so in a humble, unassuming way. He is just a tremendous human being. We are so happy that Joe will take his rightful place among our game's greatest in Canton."
It's an honor Cleveland always knew was coming for Thomas, who assembled one of the most decorated resumes of any left tackle in NFL history in an 11-year career with the Browns. He was voted to 10 Pro Bowls and is the only offensive lineman in league history to be named to 10 consecutive Pro Bowls to start a career.
He also earned eight All-Pro honors, six of them as a first-team selection, and totaled them all even though the Browns shuffled through 20 different starting quarterbacks and struggled to build a roster capable of finding consistent success during his career.
But Thomas never quit on the Browns, as evidenced by his most improbable career achievement.
For 10,363 consecutive snaps — spanning from his first NFL snap in 2007 to his last after suffering an injury during the 2017 season — Thomas never left the field. His snap streak is believed to be the longest by any player in NFL history, and Thomas kept it alive during his entire career by playing through injuries and enduring the constant heartbreak of losing seasons.
"The one theme that has been, probably, the thing I hold most closely to my heart when people ask about 'What are you most proud of during your career,' it's that snap streak because of what it represents to me," Thomas said. "'Count on me.' That was always the motto I had in my head. It was 'Count on me.' When times get tough, and you want to know who to look at, count on me. You know you can slide to my side. 'Count on me' was something that was ingrained in my brain, ingrained in my character from when I was a little boy. It's always just been part of my identity, and I think that's why that snap streak is the most special thing I think about when I think about my career."
The Browns were also part of his identity. He couldn't imagine ever leaving the team that drafted him with the third overall pick in 2007 as Thomas and his father were fishing on a boat in Lake Michigan. He had no desire to leave a fanbase that never took his talents for granted at a position where it's often easy to do so.
But Thomas made himself hard to ignore not only because he never left the field, but also with how he kept it nearly impossible for opposing edge rushers to reach his quarterback. He allowed only 30 sacks across 6,680 career pass-block snaps, according to Pro Football Focus, which meant that an edge rusher had just a .004 percent chance of sacking the QB in a one-on-one battle against him.
By the end of his durable and dominant career, there was little question about where Thomas deserved to be remembered.
Canton, where his legacy is now immortal.