November 19, 2016


The 55-year-old father of a Packers linebacker became the oldest Division I college football player ever (Cork Gaines, 2016 11 19, Business Insider)

Joe Thomas Jr. is a second-year linebacker for the Green Bay Packers. On Saturday, his father, Joe Thomas Sr., became the oldest Division I college football player on record when he carried the ball as a running back for South Carolina State.

The elder Thomas, 55,  joined his son at South Carolina State four years ago and until Saturday his only action had come in practice as a member of the scout team, according to Sports Illustrated. When his son went to the NFL two years ago, Thomas decided to stick with college hoping to eventually get into a game. 

  He was born poor and didn't like walking to school, so he'd take the broken bicycles the wealthier kids abandoned, fix them and keep them. He was driven to doctors across the state for years, but none could find a cure for his hearing, so he would steady himself in front of a mirror most nights and stick a hair clamp down his canals to clean them out. He was placed into a vocational program at his high school, so he set out to become the best damn carpenter and bricklayer he could. He played peewee football but never saw the field at tailback, so he switched to defense and started lifting weights and muscled his way into the rotation.

On the football field, he discovered that determination could overcome nearly any deficiency, even deafness. He began to see that friendships could be based on mutual admiration rather than intimidation. He learned, most importantly, that he could have an identity.

When he was 17 a doctor looked into Joe's ears and saw the build-up he'd accumulated from all those years of thrashing around in a dirt road. He procured a tool that Joe remembers looking like a squirt gun and out gushed decades-old gunk. "Suddenly, I could hear at least 200% better," Joe says.

The world was open to him again. And as his anger faded, his popularity grew. He got up the courage to ask out a girl named Sarah, who would become his wife. And in 1979, as a junior, he finished second on the Blackville High School football team in tackles. He put so much weight on his 5' 10" frame that kids around school took to calling him Hulk. In the final game of the season, he finally got a chance to run the ball. He finished with five touchdowns, so many that the cannon Blackville fired after each score ran out of powder and the opposing coach asked the referees to run the clock continuously in the second half so that he could get home early and hunt deer the next morning before church.

As a senior, Joe believed he would become a star. He continued to play both ways but started at fullback and was the team's second-leading rusher. He insists, to this day, that he was the second best back in the state, that he would have been even more dominant--that he could have made it in college football--had his coach played him more. "What I was doing in South Carolina," he says, without a hint of hyperbole, "was the same thing that Herschel Walker was doing in Georgia."

In the 1980 season, the Hawks marched undefeated into the state playoff semifinals, where they faced their archrivals at Williston, a high school 10 miles west. For decades, Joe has been telling the story of this game. In the long weekend I spend with Joe, he brings it up a dozen times at least. And he always lingers on one point--his coach, Tim Moore, didn't play him enough. "I only got one play at running back," Joe says. "I got the ball and was tackled on the hand off, and we lost the game. If I had run the ball more, we would have won, and we would have won the state championship."

Posted by at November 19, 2016 3:28 PM