Walter Jones: An Appreciation of #71

A legend is retiring today.

You can’t say that very often, but in the world of professional football – especially for those of us who cheer on the Seahawks – you can say that about Walter Jones and still it would be an understatement.

My memory is shot, so I don’t really recall a whole lot about the 1997 NFL Draft, except the Seahawks had two picks in the top 10. Meaning we were, again, terrible the year before. And also that we fleeced someone – I believe it was the Bears, for Rick Mirer – for the other pick.

Apparently, we selected Shawn Springs with the 3rd pick; who was supposed to be a lock-down corner out of Ohio State, but inevitably underwhelmed even as he went to Pro Bowls, until finally injuries and steroid suspensions marred his career with the Seahawks.

With the 6th pick, we selected Walter Jones out of Florida State. The thing I remember most about this draft is that the St. Louis Rams drafted Orlando Pace 1st overall. It was Pace who was seen as the greatest Left Tackle in the draft, and it was Pace who ultimately overshadowed Jones for half their careers.

Indeed, Pace is a hall of famer. Indeed, Pace was one of the greatest Left Tackles of all time.

But, somewhere along the way, probably as the Seahawks improved overall as a team, the focus shifted to Big Walt. Yes, as the century flipped, the Rams were dominating with their offense, going to Super Bowls and whatnot. But, quietly, tucked away in the Pacific Northwest, here was Walter Jones. Dominating.

That’s a word you hear a lot about Walter Jones: quiet. O-Linemen for the most part don’t say a whole lot. They’re bred to be quiet leaders. Talk through their actions and so forth. Even still, Walter Jones didn’t NEED to say anything. The look of dejection and frustration on the faces of all who tried to get through him said enough.

Two of the things I most fondly remember about Walter Jones include the mental image of him, in the offseason, in his hometown somewhere in Alabama (I think), strapping a car to his body and pulling it around. Who needs a weight room when you can tie a car to your shoulders and mush like a pancaking, 300+ pound mule?

The other thing I remember is him, doing that, while year-after-year holding out of training camp in dispute-after-dispute with management over yet another year being Franchised. Eventually, he signed a long-term deal, and was forced to muck it up with the rest of the team in July and August. But, in those years he was at home in Alabama training, he’d ALWAYS step right in before the regular season started and perform at such a high level. Who needs practice and two-a-days when you’ve got the raw natural ability of the best player in the game?

With all the transition that goes on with any NFL team each and every year, Walter Jones was the one constant we as Seahawks fans could always count on. “Off-Tackle Left” was always a play we could run when it was 3rd and Short late in the game. Matt Hasselbeck’s (and a slew of also-rans) blind side would always be accounted for as long as Walter Jones was protecting him.

And, you can see, over the better part of the last couple years, what his presence meant when he was too injured to play. Our offensive line production was one of the worst in the NFL.

And speaking of “too injured to play”, rarely could that be said about Walter Jones. The man endured the brunt of an unthinkable beating game after game, season after season, and always came back to the line ready to excel like no one before who’d played the position. He didn’t just play through pain, he lived through pain.

If Orlando Pace joins Walter Jones this offseason in opting to retire, I fully expect both of these men to be inducted into the Hall Of Fame the instant they’re eligible. But, if for whatever reason only one ends up making it in their first try, it had better be Big Walt. Because the man IS a legend. And he deserves to be honored as such.

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