Walter Jones Deserves First-Ballot HOF Nomination
By Corbin Smith
As a lifelong NFL fan and an avid student of the game, I've always seen the game differently than most people. I love watching great quarterback play like everyone else does, but can quarterbacks truly play well without strong offensive line play? I think not.
Let's face it: offensive lineman don't get anywhere close to the credit they deserve. Think of it this way: how many present-day starting tackles in the NFL can you name off the top of your head? Unless you are a football nerd like myself, you probably can only name a handful at the most. Lineman never receive proper recognition for what they do, and sadly, that will never change.
Skill players will always be the ones who garner the most attention. Thanks to fantasy football and sports media, fans generally only care about who scores the touchdowns and remain oblivious to who helped make the touchdown happen in the first place. Who wants to talk about a guard throwing a beautiful pancake block on an opposing linebacker when we can talk about the beautiful touchdown run made the tailback instead? Well, I'm one of the few who understands how critical offensive line play is and I greatly enjoy watching lineman do their work in the trenches on a weekly basis.
I've been watching NFL football for 20 years, and I've seen plenty of great offensive lineman come and go. Jonathan Ogden of the Ravens and Larry Allen of the Cowboys were two of the best tackles I've seen play in the modern era, and both ended up becoming first ballot Hall of Fame nominations in 2012. While I thoroughly enjoyed watching both Ogden and Allen play and believe both were more than deserving of Hall of Fame recognition, neither player holds serve compared to former Seahawks tackle Walter Jones, who became one of 25 semifinalists for the 2014 Hall of Fame class.
Very few players have dominated their respective position like Jones did during his time in the league. Known for his unorthodox training regimen, which included pushing an SUV uphill while in neutral, Jones made the Pro Bowl nine times and earned All-Pro honors seven times during his much-celebrated career. In 12-plus seasons, he surrendered a total of 23 quarterback sacks and gashed opponents to generate big running lanes for backs like Ricky Watters and Shaun Alexander. He used graceful footwork to excel in pass protection and utliized incredible strength to serve as a plow in the run game. In the end, he was arguably the most versatile lineman that the league has ever seen.
He was widely respected by teammates and opposing players alike. Legendary Oakland Raiders coach and heralded announcer John Madden once called him the greatest player in the game during a 2004 broadcast and mentioned him as one of the best tackles in the history of the league during multiple broadcasts. That's mighty high praise coming from Madden, who wasn't always quick to compliment if your name wasn't Brett Favre.
But what really separates Jones from his peers? Ogden and Allen both made plenty of Pro Bowls and made several All-Pro teams during their illustrious careers, but Jones' ongoing fame truly sets him apart. If you ask Seahawk fans who they believe to be the best player in franchise history, it wouldn't be Alexander or Steve Largent or Cortez Kennedy. Jones would easily take the cake. Following his retirement, the Seahawks retired his jersey, making him only the third player in team history to receive the honor. His popularity even led to the state of Washington making April 30th "Walter Jones Day" in his honor. He's easily the most recognizable player to ever don a Seahawks uniform and would be the first player represented on a Seahawks Mount Rushmore. How many other offensive lineman in the history of the NFL can you say that about? None.
After chronic knee problems forced "Big Walt" to retire in April 2010, he walked away from the game on his own terms and added to his impressive legacy through charity work, as he jump-started the now-annual Walter Jones' Turkey Bowl in 2011. The event features flag football games to help raise money for HEALS, Inc., a non-profit organization in Huntsville, Alabama that provides on-site medical and dental care as well as counseling and other social services at local schools. His willingness to help others in need provides yet another reason why fans in Seattle revere the living legend.
Jones's long list of accolades warrant a first ballot selection, and his passion for charity makes him an even more desirable candidate. I understand that several other players on the ballot have been waiting much longer than Jones, but that shouldn't matter when voting for who enters football inmortality. The best players should be elected each year, regardless of when they become eligible.
As one of the best players of his generation and one of the most respected players to ever put on an NFL uniform, it's a no-brainer: Walter Jones deserves to have his bust in Canton as a member of the 2014 class. Anything less would be an absolute injustice.