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Joe Thomas - Hall of Fame 2023

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Joe Thomas recalls beginnings of historic snap streak in Joe Thomas: Not Your Average Joe

Joe Thomas: Not Your Average Joe tells the story of the historic legacy of Browns Hall of Famer Joe Thomas, including chapters written by Joe himself


The following is an excerpt from the book, Joe Thomas: Not Your Average Joe, written by Marc Bona and Dan Murphy. This Joe Thomas biography features interviews with family, friends, coaches, teammates — and Joe himself — and includes chapters written in Joe's own words. The story goes beyond his 10,363 consecutive snaps and 20 different starting quarterbacks. It includes his time as a three-sport standout as a youth, overcoming personal tragedy and severe injury in college and his decision to skip the NFL draft to go fishing with his family. The book is available in northeast Ohio bookstores, Amazon

Chp. 20: The Snap Streak

"I'm just a guy who shows up and does his job every day."

It started with my first play, a nervous rookie making his NFL debut. That turned into my first game, a blowout loss to the Steelers. That turned into my rookie season, my only winning season in the NFL. Then it just kept adding up, play after play, season after season. I always wanted to do everything I could do to help my team win. To me, that meant always staying on the field. To be there for the people who needed you. I learned at a young age, you stay on the field until you can't. My mom and dad instilled in me that you just get up and you go to work and you don't make a big deal about it.

There were aches and pains, but I was raised to fight through the pain. You don't let your body tell you that you can't get up and play another play. You don't let your mind tell you those things. You just keep going so that's what I did.

I always thought, they hired me to do a job and that job requires me to get my butt up, get back to the huddle, get the next play and go do it again. And I'll keep doing that until I physically can't get up or they tell me you're not good enough to be out there anymore. So I just kept getting up.

Around my fifth or sixth season is when I actually took notice. I was talking with Alex Mack and Mitchell Schwartz and none of us had missed a snap the year before. As we talked through it, I realized I didn't miss one from the year before that or the year before that and so on. I thought that was a pretty neat thing so I decided, I want to keep this thing going as long as I could and not go out of the game for a hangnail or something. It became a point of pride.

Let's be real, I know having a streak like that takes a lot of luck. In the NFL when there is an injury and the trainers come on the field to tend to you, you must sit out the next play regardless of how you feel. You also don't just miss plays due to injuries — your shoe could burst open, jersey rip in half, face mask break, lose a contact lens or any number of minor missteps to force you off the field for a play or two. But I got lucky, so I just kept going to work and not making a big deal about it.

Now there were a couple instances where my streak almost ended. One was the season finale in 2013. We were playing at Pittsburgh. It was a meaningless game. We were out of the playoffs and they were, too. It ended up being Rob Chudzinski's final game as head coach.

I will admit it was the dumbest injury I have ever gotten. I was dealing with some back spasms at the time, so I needed to keep my back loose and continuously stretch. I lifted my leg across the other, placing my ankle atop the opposite knee. I bent down with force, probably too much force because I heard a pop in my knee. I instantly knew something was wrong. I could walk, gingerly, and it felt OK to just stand on so I figured I would just play the next play and see what happens. I was worried I wouldn't be able to do my job, but I made it through the play. At that point, it is what it is, and you aren't going to make it worse, so I was able to limp through the rest of the game, a game we lost 20-7.

That's when they took me to get an MRI and I found out it was a pretty significant injury. I tore my lateral collateral ligament (LCL), a grade 2 tear. I needed four to six weeks to let that heal. Luckily, it was the last game of the season or I would have been forced to miss a few games.

Another time the streak was in jeopardy was in 2014. Mike Pettine was our head coach. We were actually blowing out the Steelers. Unfortunately, it was usually the other way around most of my career. It was Week 6 and we were at home. We jumped out on them pretty good. It was 21-3 at halftime and later 31-3 in the fourth quarter. I'm out on the field enjoying this rare feeling of a blowout win when I look over and I see my backup Vinston Painter come trotting onto the field.

Painter was a sixth-round pick by the Broncos out of Virginia Tech in 2013. He spent some time on their practice squad but didn't appear in any games his rookie year. The Browns signed him in 2014 and he was making his NFL debut that week.

As I saw him running on the field, I started looking around wondering what he was doing. Did someone else get hurt and I didn't see it? He comes right up to me and says, "Hey Joe, I got you."

I say: "You don't got me. Get the f- out of here."

The poor guy didn't know what to do. He stood there bewildered for a second or two. So he started to ask the other guys on the line if he could sub in for them and they all told him no. He turned around and ran back to the sideline with his tail between his legs. I felt bad because he was just doing what the coaches told him to do. I knew about my streak and we were actually winning so there was no way I was willingly just going to take myself out and have it come to an end. I was going to enjoy this. Meanwhile the coaches are on the sidelines wondering what was going on because they were trying to sub out some of the veteran players to avoid a late-game injury.

Later they found out that I hadn't missed a snap in my career. It was Mike Pettine's first year as head coach, and he didn't know that I had never missed a snap. We seemed to have new coaches every year or two and I never introduced myself as, "Hi, I'm Joe Thomas and I've never missed a snap." It wasn't something that was really talked about at that point, but I knew about it, so I kept going. I would continue to just go to work and not make a big deal out of it.

The snaps just kept adding up until a milestone approached: 10,000 was on the horizon.

*Excerpted from the book "Joe Thomas: Not Your Average Joe" © 2023 by Marc Bona and Dan Murphy. Reprinted with permission of Gray & Co., Publishers. Available at Northeast Ohio bookstores and Amazon. More info at

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