Before he even played his first game with the Browns, Joe Thomas knew what goals he wanted to check off when his career was over.
"I remember an interview I did my rookie season," Thomas told local reporters Thursday on a Zoom call. "I said I'd like to become a starter, make the Pro Bowl, then make the Hall of Fame. I didn't think anything of it, but it was kind of this newsworthy item for this rookie to say he wanted to go to the Hall of Fame."
The interview happened in 2007 after the Browns drafted him third overall, and everything Thomas has done since has put him on a path to smash each of those achievements.
Start games? Thomas started 167 of them at left tackle and played 10,363 consecutive snaps, believed to be the longest streak ever by an NFL player. Pro Bowls? Thomas is the only offensive lineman in league history to be voted to 10 Pro Bowls in a row.
Hall of Fame? Well, that'll come soon enough. His first year on the ballot is 2023, and he should be as big of a lock as anyone in pro football history to make it on his first vote.
On Sunday, Thomas will be enshrined in another special club: the Browns Legends Program.
He, as well as the late Darrel "Pete" Brewster, will be recognized at halftime of the Browns' Week 2 home-opener at FirstEnergy Stadium as his 11-year career gets one more well-deserved spotlight in front of Cleveland.
"This is a really special step for me to be recognized by the organization and put my name among the greats of whoever wore a Cleveland Browns uniform," he said. "When you look at all the Ring of Honors and Legends clubs throughout the NFL, the Browns are almost incomparable."
Thomas already has one piece of recognition in the Browns Ring of Honor. The number "10,363" was added to the ring at the stadium in 2018 in honor of his streak and has been a symbol of what he aspired to be — a reliable, tough athlete who never quit on his team, no matter how difficult the times were.
And for the Browns, those times were rarely easy in his career. They went 48-128 in games he started and cycled through six different head coaches and 20 different quarterbacks.
But 10,363? That number will be remembered forever by all Browns fans who watched him dominate.
"The thing that sticks out most when I reflect back on my career is those 10,363 consecutive snaps," he said. "It's special because it hadn't been done before, as far as we know and as far as I'm willing to look. So I think it's kind of a historic, difficult record. And as an offensive lineman, we don't really get a lot of records, except for bad ones, holdings, penalties, so on and so forth.
"But I think more than that, it kind of typifies what I tried to be as a teammate, which was I tried to be reliable, I tried to be consistent, I tried to be always there for the guys around me to help them do their jobs as well as they possibly could, and that was what drove me to play through pain and play through injuries and show up every Sunday."
Browns fans never failed in showing appreciation for Thomas for those traits during his career and throughout his retirement. His jersey is still easy to spot among fans every Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium, and he's one of the most popular Browns figures on social media with over 279,000 followers on Twitter. His post-playing career job as an analyst for NFL Network has helped with that, too.
Another round of praise Sunday from Browns fans will be a special moment for him, but the recognition he's looking forward to most will come from his family — primarily, his children.
Thomas has four kids aged 9, 8, 6 and 4 years old, and he said he's raising them "the right way" as Browns fans, even though the Thomas household presides in Wisconsin. His kids don't remember much about their father as a player, and that was apparent when he asked his oldest child and daughter, Logan, what she remembers about going to Browns games.
"She said, 'Daddy, the only thing I remember about Browns games is sitting on the floor at the stadium and eating peanuts,'" Thomas said with a laugh. "They don't even remember me wearing a Browns jersey. They have no memories of me playing football, which is a little sad, but it's also kind of cool now for me to come back and be recognized, be on the field and for them to wear my jerseys and make some of those memories now when the team is a little bit better."
Eventually, his kids will get to see him achieve the final goal he had in his mind when he first stepped into the league. The Hall of Fame ceremony will likely — and should — happen next year.
But on Sunday, Thomas will provide his family and Browns fans everywhere another unforgettable memory, one that honors the goals he set for himself and what accomplishing them meant for the franchise.
"It's going to be really special for everybody."