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Joe Thomas selected as finalists for Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award

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CLEVELAND - Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas has been selected as one of three finalists for the 2012 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, the NFL announced today. Renamed in 1999 after legendary Chicago Bears Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton, this honor is the only league award that recognizes a player's off-the-field community service activities as well as his playing excellence. Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Dallas tight end Jason Witten join Thomas as the three finalists. The winner will be announced the night before Super Bowl XLVIII, at the "2nd Annual NFL Honors," a star-studded football and entertainment event. The two-hour prime time awards special from the Mahalia Jackson Theatre in New Orleans will air nationally on Saturday, February 2, from 9:00-11:00 p.m. (ET) on CBS.

"I am honored and truly humbled to be recognized as a finalist for this award," said Thomas. "Walter Payton wasn't just a Hall-of-Fame player, he was also one of the best people that ever played in the NFL and made a difference in so many lives.  Giving back is something that is extremely important and the Cleveland community is very special to me."

"Since he joined the Browns in 2007, Joe Thomas has been a tremendous ambassador for our franchise and Northeast Ohio," said Browns CEO Joe Banner.  "Not only has he established himself as one of the top offensive linemen in the game, but his philanthropic work has had an extremely positive impact on numerous people.  Community involvement is one of our top off-field priorities, and Joe epitomizes these efforts. On behalf of everyone at the Cleveland Browns, we would like to congratulate Joe on this outstanding and well-deserved honor."

The three finalists were chosen by a blue-ribbon panel from the 32 team nominees for the award, all of whom receive a $1,000 donation to the charity of their choice. The three finalists will receive an additional $5,000 donation in their name. Thomas has selected Team Rubicon USA, a non-profit organization co-founded by a former college teammate Jacob Wood, who also served our country through the United States Marines. Team Rubicon unites the skills and experiences of military veterans with medical professionals to rapidly deploy emergency response teams into crisis situations.

The Man of the Year Award has been given annually since 1970 and past winners include many of the league's greatest players, 13 of whom are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The selection panel is comprised of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Walter Payton's wife Connie Payton, Pro Football Hall of Fame members Frank Gifford and Anthony Muñoz, last year's Walter Payton award winner Matt Birk of the Baltimore Ravens and Sports Illustrated football writer Peter King. The winner of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award will receive the Gladiator statue, an original art creation by the noted sculptor, Daniel Schwartz.  In addition, the player's favorite charity will receive an additional $20,000 donation in his name.

Thomas has a deep connection with those who serve our country. In 2010, he traveled more than 14,000 miles round trip to visit troops in Afghanistan through the NFL/USO Tour. To this day he is still in contact with many of the troops he met during that trip. Upon his return, Thomas supported a national USO campaign to raise additional funds in support of our troops, lending his name to the nationwide effort. Along with former NFL players and coaches, Thomas visited the Pentagon last offseason to take part in the Military-NFL Culture Change Campaign focus group to help educate people about the dangers of traumatic brain injuries. Thomas was the league's only active player to participate in the study.

Earlier this year, Thomas made the largest individual financial contribution that the local "Kids in Need Resource Center" has ever received. The center helps provide school supplies for more than 180 schools in impoverished areas. Thomas also founded the "Blue Collar Corner" season ticket program which provided tickets, apparel and food for families through the Cleveland Building & Construction Trades Council. In addition, he founded the "Thomas' Troops" season ticket program which hosted men and women who serve our country every home game and provided tickets, apparel and food through the USO of Northern Ohio. 

 Thomas has annually served as the Honorary Co-Chair of the "Taste of the Browns" to benefit the Cleveland Foodbank, and held a similar role this year with the Providence House, the Cleveland Browns Courage House. He has also served as a spokesman for both the United Way and Fuel Up to Play 60 as well as extending support to local youth football teams through equipment donations. Thomas also offered local kids a unique holiday shopping experience through the annual Shop with the Pro event, which this year benefitted kids who had been impacted by loss of items through fires or natural disasters. Joe and his wife, Annie, are also committed to other causes including the local Animal Protective League and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The Thomas' also annually participate in the Browns Adopt-A-Family program through The "Littlest Heroes", an organization that works with kids diagnosed with cancer and their families.

On the field, Thomas has been selected to the Pro Bowl in all six of his NFL seasons. He has not missed an offensive snap since joining the Browns as the third overall pick of the 2007 NFL Draft, starting all 96 games of his career at left tackle. Thomas joins Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown (1958-66) as the only Browns selected to the Pro Bowl in each of their first six seasons in the league. The last Browns player to be named to six consecutive Pro Bowls was Hall of Fame running back Leroy Kelly, who earned the honor for the 1967-72 Pro Bowls. Thomas is one of six Browns to earn Pro Bowl honors six or more times. In addition, Thomas has been selected to numerous All-Pro teams during his career.