Orangeburg, SC (WLTX) - Minutes after the game was over, and after he'd been carried off the field by his teammates, South Carolina State running back Joe Thomas Sr. was still trying to soak it all in after becoming the oldest player to enter a Division I college football game.
"I couldn't explain it to be honest with you," the 55-year-old said when trying to sum up his feeling to a group of reporters who'd come to see him make history. "It was a happy day in my life today. It was always something I wanted to do to play college football."
Thomas had only been physically cleared to play a little earlier this month. South Carolina State Head Coach Buddy Pough had tried to get Thomas in the game last week, but wasn't able to. But against Savannah State Saturday, Pugh said he felt the best opportunity to turn the dream into a reality was early in the game.
He'd already drawn up the play beforehand.
"We wanted to just make sure that we protected him in a way where we didn't necessarily put him in some kind of undue harm that might not necessarily be good," Pough said.
Thomas said he knew when he was inserted that Savannah State expected him to run, and could see one of their players shift over to make the tackle. When he got the ball, he tried to move to get the defender to miss him. He was able to advance the ball three yards.
As he was on the ground after being tackled, he recalls a Savannah State player told him, "get up pop."
"I felt like a hero," Thomas said about the run. "I felt young, I felt about 20 years old."
For him, it was a great day, even if he didn't get another snap. He was just glad to get in. "I've been waiting on this dream for 36 years or better. Thank God it happened today."
"The guys love him now," Pough said. "You gotta remember this guy can run and keep up with those guys at this age. I wanna see where you guys are when you get to be that age."
Not bad for a man who's old enough to be his teammates' father. And speaking of sons and fathers, Joe's son--Joe Thomas Jr--is a pretty good player in his own right, as a member of the NFL's Green Bay Packers. So how does he feel about his dad getting in the game?
"My son's very proud of me," Joe (the older one) said. "He was all for it. That made me feel better."
South Carolina State has one game left, against Bethune-Cookman, meaning his playing career may not be done yet. "I'm hoping they'll get me in some more carries and some different plays," he said.