By Bruce Hooley
Browns’offensive tackle Joe Thomas has been called a lot of things during his career in Cleveland.
Cornerstone of the franchise.
All of those fit the man who’s never missed a snap in his six seasons as the team’s starting left tackle.
But, a crazy ex-girlfriend?
Thomas laughed at that characterization of him Thursday in a visit with The Hooligans when the words of former teammate Peyton Hillis were relayed from Kansas City.
“Nope, I haven’t heard that one yet,” Thomas said on ESPN 850 WKNR (listen here: http://www.stationcaster.com/player_skinned.php?s=70&c=1411&f=868541) “No, that’s a new one on me.”
Hillis reacted tersely Thursday afternoon when asked about Thomas labeling him a “toxic” force in the Browns’ locker room in 2011 when immersed in a contract dispute with the team.
"Joe Thomas, he can have his opinions all he wants," Hillis said. "It's kind of like a crazy ex-girlfriend, you know? It's been over a year. Get over it. But I don't know. I guess when you get paid over $100 million by one team, it's kind of easy to point the finger at another guy and hate on him for trying to get another contract."
Hmmmm, seems like the Green Monster moved from Fenway Park to Arrowhead Stadium, given HIllis’ envious reference to the eight-year, $92-million contract Thomas signed last August.
Hillis wanted a multi-year deal with the Browns after rushing for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns, with 477 receiving yards and two more scores in the first season of the Mike Holmgren-Tom Heckert regime.
That success made Hillis so popular with Browns’ fans he made the cover of Madden, which only reinforced his belief that he deserved a contract comparable to the league’s best running backs.
Holmgren, though, never offered the lucrative contract Hillis craved and let him play out the final season of his deal last year.
Hillis never approached his 2010 success in 2011, battling injuries and missing one game because of strep throat in a star-crossed season in which he played only 10 games and finished with 583 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
Hillis subsequently signed a one-year deal with Kansas City for $3 million, and enters Sunday’s game at Browns Stadium as the backup to Jamal Charles, having gained just 193 yards this season.
I don't have any bitterness or resentment or regrets. I did what I did," Hillis said. "There are always regrets in every process, or things you wish you did better, but now is now, and I have to do what's best for me now."
Hillis has missed three games with a high-ankle sprain, but scored his only touchdown last week in a win over Carolina.
"He's been good ever since he's been here,” Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel said. “I've had no problems with him. He's been productive on the field, other than when he was injured, when he wasn't able to be on the field."
Thomas said he was surprised his candid assessment of the locker room distraction Hillis became last year grabbed headlines.
“In every interview I do, I try to be honest and think about the question and answer as truthfully as I can,” Thomas said. “That’s all it was. The only reason it came out is it was probably the first time anybody asked me about it. It surprised me it was that big of a deal….It surprised me there were that many people who really didn’t know what was going on.”
Thomas said he chose not to publically call out Hillis amid the turmoil of last season because, “I thought it was public, the way things were happening and the way things were being reported. I didn’t realize people didn’t have the same perception of how things were happening as the people in the building..
“Generally, when someone is on your team, the best way is to -- behind closed doors -- encourage them and do the things friends do to help them understand the best thing for themselves and their team. I don’t think it’s a good idea to call a teammate out.”
Now that Hillis is no longer a teammate, would Thomas seek him out before kickoff on Sunday to clear the air?
“If I see him, I don’t have any ill will against him,” Thomas said. “I always wish him the best. If I see him, I’ll probably go up and talk to him.”
Thomas is the Browns’ nominee for the 2012 NFL Walter Payton Man-of-the-Year Award, which annually goes to the player of exceptional ability whose off-the-field charitable endeavors capture the spirit of the former Chicago Bears’ running back.
Previous winners include Drew Brees, LaDainian Tomlinson, Peyton Manning, Dan Marino and Kurt Warner.
Thomas works with the Cleveland Food Bank and Team Rubicon http://teamrubiconusa.org/, which unites the skills and experiences of military veterans with medical professionals to rapidly deploy emergency response teams into crisis situations.
Bruce Hooley hosts The Hooligans from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”
Email Bruce firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz
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