The Cleveland Browns were reinstated as a franchise in 1999 after a three-year hiatus. The original Browns franchise in Cleveland relocated to Baltimore and agreed to change its name and leave behind the Browns’ old records.
They have managed precisely three winning seasons since then. Joe Thomas experienced precisely one of them—his rookie season when the Browns went 10-6. They proceeded to lose at least 10 games in their next six seasons. The best they ever did was 7-8-1 after that.
And yet the great tackle, recently named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on the first ballot, insists that he has no regrets. Having experienced a losing season in 10 of his 11 years, and probably twice as many coaching changes—it was all worth it. I guess.
“You’ve got guys around you that you know are counting on you. They’re the brothers that pull you through those dark, tough times”, he said, via the team’s website, “and in the end, you look back and you’re like, ‘Wow, there were a lot of things that happened over my 11 years in the NFL — not always good, but the journey tells the story of my career, and I wouldn’t change anything”.
Frankly, I never believe people when they say things like they have no regrets, whether because it “made me who I am” or otherwise. Either that or I think they’re in denial. Everybody has things that they would change if they could. And no NFL athlete who actually cares would have no regrets about such a miserable career as that of a Cleveland Brown in this millennium.
Of course, we can entertain the possibility of whether or not Thomas even means what he says. Perhaps it’s just ‘one of those things you say’. But it is a comment that will stick out, given the context. The guy won 48 games in an 11-year career. Forty-eight. In 11 years. 167 career games. 48-119.
A Hall of Famer. In many of those seasons, Thomas was the only commendable aspect of the team. His greatness was undeniable, of course. One of the greatest offensive linemen in the history of the game, whether at tackle or any other position.
Chances are Thomas is tired of hearing conversations about his career and the regrets that others have for him, that he never experienced greater success or played for a more stable franchise. And it’s not as though he can change what happened at this point.
Sure, he could have gone elsewhere at some point instead of re-signing with the Browns. But he got to play with his guys all that time, even if the faces changes more often than in most locker rooms. And for his sake I genuinely hope that he meant what he said. But I and others will find it hard to believe.