JOE THOMAS racked up virtually every individual accolade imaginable during his 11 seasons with the Browns, but he didn't receive the ultimate honor—his face on a beer can—until this fall. Thomas, a longtime suds connoisseur—"I grew up in Wisconsin," he explains—adorns 73 Kolsch, the limited-edition release from Cleveland's Great Lakes Brewing Co. that was developed with the former lineman.
Thomas lives next door to Great Lakes CEO Bill Boor, and they had talked for a few years about collaborating before finally pushing forward in the spring. "I was there from soup to nuts sitting in the pub at 8 a.m., trying 25 different beers and talking with the brewmaster about what I liked, what I didn't like," says Thomas. "I like hoppy beers, I like light beers, I like Hefeweizen. There's really nothing that I don't enjoy. But if there's a beer I could drink every day, it would be that 73 Kolsch. That's kind of how we brewed it. We didn't want it to be something that was too hoppy, and we didn't want it to be too light where it just tasted like any light beer. We wanted to make it an everyday beer." It worked: the brew, which was introduced in northeast Ohio in September, is virtually impossible to find on shelves now. (GLBC is considering revisiting the collaboration in the future.)
Don't think Thomas is just letting himself go in retirement. He's 50 pounds under his playing weight. "I cut my carbs way back," Thomas says. "When I was playing, I had to eat an outrageous amount of sugar to keep my weight on because I was burning 7,000--8,000 calories a day. Now I eat more vegetables. And I'm doing a lot of yoga and swimming."
Thomas is also keeping himself busy. He has a podcast with former teammate Andrew Hawkins, and is an NFL Network analyst. "I always thought about retirement because I wanted to be prepared," he says. "I would track my friends' careers to see the trials and tribulations of transitioning to whatever's next. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, but I knew that I wanted to stay busy because I see guys having trouble transitioning. If you're just waking up whenever you want and you don't have a schedule, you don't have responsibilities, you don't have people counting on you. I think you lose a lot of that identity. And I think that's when people struggle mentally."
"WHEN I WAS PLAYING, I HAD TO EAT AN OUTRAGEOUS AMOUNT OF SUGAR TO KEEP MY WEIGHT ON BECAUSE I WAS BURNING 7,000--8,000 CALORIES A DAY."