CHICAGO - NOVEMBER 01: Tommie Harris #91 of the Chicago Bears is double-teamed blocked by Joe Thomas #73 and Eric Steinbach #65 of the Cleveland Browns at Soldier Field on November 1, 2009 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Browns 30-6. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Joe Thomas grew up in Brookfield, Wisconsin. He was a star athlete at Brookfield Central High School, lettering in football, basketball and track. Thomas was a state champion in the shot put and discuss in high school, in addition to being all everything in football.
Growing up a Green Bay Packers fan, Thomas was 12 years old when Brett Favre and Reggie White led the team to a Super Bowl title in 1996. One thing Thomas never got to do was see a game inside historic Lambeau Field, though it was only 140 miles up I-43.
So it will be a special day for Thomas on Sunday.
“I think it’s a thrill for everybody in the locker room. It’s one of the most historic, legendary places to play in the NFL. So many great players that are in the Hall of Fame have played there.”
Thomas may never play for the Packers, but he is certainly on a path to add his name to the list of Hall of Famers from Green Bay, Wisconsin.
“It’s a special place. It’s the only community owned franchise, it’s the only stadium that’s kind of right in the middle of a community, so it’s a special place to play for anybody. It’s still special for me growing up a big fan.”
Thomas has played a preseason game there, but never a regular season game.
“I wasn’t ever lucky enough to go to any games because tickets are hard to come by, but I remember watching a lot of games.” Thomas said. “I remember my dad telling me about what it was like when he was a kid when they were good, and then they had all of those bad years and then Mike Holmgren came back and watching that all happen was pretty cool for a young kid.”
That has a sound pretty familiar to Browns fans who have to hear stories from parents or grandparents about the great Cleveland teams of the past that used to win titles. Unfortunately for Clevelanders, Mike Holmgren couldn’t repeat the same magic touch with the Browns.
One reporter asked “So it was actually easier for you to make the NFL and play in the stadium than buy a ticket to sit in it?”
“Yes.” joked Thomas. “It’s true. I think there’s a seventy year waiting list for season tickets or something crazy like that.”
According to the Packers, there are now only approximately 100,000 names on that waiting list, as they’ve been trying to trim it down since 2003.
Thomas’ teammate Mitchell Schwartz said he’ll be aware of the setting on Sunday, but it still is a business trip. “It’s really cool. You know the history of it, but you can’t let that take away from how you play.”
Thomas should get a nice ovation from the Wisconsin faithful. He chose the University of Wisconsin and was the first Outland Trophy winner in the school’s history. He started 38 straight games for the Badgers at tackle, and even played both ways in the Music City Bowl his freshman year against Auburn when injuries depleted the defensive line.
Thomas of course has continued that durability with the Browns starting in every game of his NFL career and never missing a snap in those 102 contests.