Walter Jones Remains Legend In Seattle
Entering the 1997 NFL season, Seattle Seahawks first round selection Walter Jones arrived at training camp fighting the same emotions as most rookies. He felt out of place as he began his journey as a professional football player, unsure of the challenges he would face playing a violent sport against the world's best athletes. As his former teammate and Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon indicated on my weekly Seahawks Central Podcast, Jones "hardly ever said a word" until game time, and early on during his career, teammates struggled to get a read on him because he said so little.
Despite his quiet, humble demeanor, however, Moon could sense this kid would be special. It became abundantly clear to everyone within the organization from the outset that this enormous left tackle out of Florida State was going to be a franchise player for the Seahawks protecting the quarterback's blind side.
"You could tell right away he was a very talented guy. He was very tenacious with the way he approached the game. He had a rare ability to run block as well as anybody, but also had the nimble feet to be able to pass block against any type of speed rusher," Moon said, adding, "He had the overall package that you need to be able to play that left tackle spot."
Like Moon achieved himself in 2006, Jones finally joined the exclusive club of players enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH this weekend. On Saturday, he was formally introduced as one of the members of the 2014 Hall of Fame class, allowing future football fans to forever remember an impressive career by the greatest offensive tackle to ever play in the National Football League. That's not an opinion- it's a much-documented fact.
At 6'5, 325 pounds, Jones entered the league with a blend of size and athleticism never seen before at his respective position. He possessed the strength to physically overwhelm opponents, and he used receiver-like quickness to get to the second level of the defense and create big play opportunities for running backs. The Seahawks never had to worry about giving him extra support in pass protection because he manhandled the best defenders in the league for over a decade.
After being named the starting left tackle on opening day as a rookie, he never relinquished his starting spot until a knee injury forced him to step away from the game in 2009. He spent his entire career in the Pacific Northwest, which he considers one of his greatest accomplishments. He started a grand total of 180 games for the Seahawks, second most in franchise history behind fellow Hall of Famer Steve Largent, who managed to start 197 games in Seattle.
On the field, his legend began early on when he was named to the AP All-Rookie team in 1997. By 1999, he earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl, eventually returning to Hawaii eight more times before hanging up his cleats. Only two years later, he received First-Team All-Pro distinction for the first time and would earn similar recognition five more times over the next six seasons. Iconic NFL head coach and broadcaster John Madden once proclaimed him "the best player in football" during a 2004 telecast, and shortly after calling it a career, he was named to the NFL All-Decade team in 2010.
"You never heard anything out of him until it was time to play," Moon said regarding Jones, "And once it was time to play, you never heard anything from the guy that was playing over him because we never heard that guy's name called as far as making a tackle or making a sack on me."
As Moon hinted, quarterbacks who played behind Jones had the luxury of not having to worry about pressure coming from his side of the line. During his entire career, Jones gave up 23 quarterback sacks, or one sack per every 248 pass attempts. To put that statistic into perspective, the Detroit Lions offensive line gave up 23 sacks in 2013, which was the second-best in the league. Further cementing his status as the greatest tackle ever, Jones managed to only commit nine holding penalties while blocking for nearly 6,000 pass attempts. In today's pass-happy NFL, that's simply astonishing.
As a run blocker, he was equally as dominant, helping pave the way for Seattle running backs to eclipse the century mark eight different times. His best season came in 2005, as he helped Shaun Alexander win the NFL rushing title and break the NFL single-season record with 27 rushing touchdowns. The Seahawks reached new heights that season, making the franchise's first-ever Super Bowl appearance. Despite falling short against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Jones and his fellow linemen finally put the Emerald City on the football map.
Away from the field, Jones was just as revered by fans as he was on the gridiron, and that hasn't changed even after walking away from the game. Linemen typically don't generate much fanfare, but his uncanny workout methods and willingness to give back to the community made him a hero in Seattle. While other players lifted weights, he decided to push SUVs up hill to train for the upcoming season. Instead of building a massive pool and other luxury items next to his mansion, he built a full-length football field behind his mansion. He raised money to help with various causes, and he's continued to fight for others thanks to the annual Walter Jones Turkey Bowl that he started 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.
Teammates, opponents, and fans alike equally respected Walter Jones on the field, and his legacy will last forever in Seattle. Following his decision to retire in April 2010, the city of Seattle honored him by naming April 30 "Walter Jones Day" and he became only the third Seahawk ever to have his jersey retired in December 2010. If it's hard to think of another lineman who has had such a lasting impact on a franchise, it's probably because there isn't anyone quite like Big Walt.
Though he remains a man of few words, Jones' play spoke loud and clear. On Saturday night, he showed a side of him that few witnessed when he was playing for the Seahawks, giving a powerful speech after being introduced by his son Walterius. He thanked his fellow Seattle Hall of Famers, Largent and Cortez Kennedy, saying he has an "attitude for gratitude" towards those who helped him become the man he is today. He also paid respects to his mother, siblings, former teammates such as Matt Hasselbeck and Steve Hutchinson, and former head coach Mike Holmgren, who he said will be "standing up here one day."
Jones wrapped up his stirring speech by summing up the value football has had on his life, saying, "Football has been a blessing. It has changed my life and those around me. It is a bond that keeps a family together, and provided opportunities where there was just inspiration and determination. The thing I've learned along this incredible journey, I'm not only cheering for the rest of my life, but pass it on to anyone that loves the game. Thank you, go Seahawks, and I love Seattle."
In the end, the 12th man should be the one thanking this incredible human being. Thank you for providing Seattle's faithful fans with 13 seasons of greatness on the football field. Thank you for continuing to be a valuable asset to both the community in Seattle and your home in Alabama. Enjoy your time in the limelight- you've more than earned the right to wear that gold jacket and will be the perfect individual to represent this city and franchise in Canton.