Walter Jones' position didn't lend itself to acclaim. His personality kept him out of the spotlight.
Walter Jones’ position didn’t lend itself to acclaim. His personality kept him out of the spotlight.
A quiet left tackle, he was a not-so-gentle giant of a blocker whose biggest accomplishment wasn’t what he did so much as what he prevented opponents from doing.
Jones protected the blind side of nine starting quarterbacks in Seattle. He appeared in more playoff games than anyone in franchise history and was the last remaining Seahawk to play in the Kingdome.
Jones announced his retirement Thursday, but it’s not the ending that will be remembered most. Not the final game he played at Dallas in November 2008 after suffering a knee injury. Not the two surgeries and 17 months of uncertainty that followed.
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Jones, 36, will be remembered for the 12 seasons he played, the nine Pro Bowl selections and the unsurpassed dominance that preceded the injury.
“A great teammate,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “A pro. A guy you can count on. That’s what Walt was. A great teammate, it just happened to be that he was also the best player on the team.”
Maybe the best player in this franchise’s history.
Other Seahawks have made a national name, starting with Steve Largent’s record-setting career. Safety Kenny Easley was named the league’s defensive player of the year. So was Cortez Kennedy.
But Jones was the best player on the best team in franchise history, a starter in the Super Bowl and the cornerstone in the golden age of Seahawks football as the team made five consecutive playoff appearances from 2003 through 2007.
Seattle has changed coaches twice since Jones suffered a knee injury in Dallas on Nov. 27, 2008. His ability to come back from the injury was compromised by the fact he cannot take many anti-inflammatory medications because of a kidney condition diagnosed when he was a rookie. Jones indicated he decided to retire early in February, but waited until now to confirm it with a formal announcement.
Last week, Seattle chose Russell Okung with the sixth pick of the draft. That’s the same spot where the Seahawks chose Jones out of Florida State in 1997. Okung plays the same position, too. But no one is going to replace Jones. Seattle made that clear, announcing his No. 71 would be retired immediately.
Jones was different right from the beginning. That was evident the moment he stepped on the field.
“A lot of times, a first-round draft pick is a little bit suspect right off the bat,” said John Friesz, former Seahawks quarterback. “And that was not the case with Walter. It was clear right off the bat that he was going to be ready to go right way.”
Friesz was the starting quarterback for Jones’ regular-season debut. Warren Moon was next. Seven others followed, from Jon Kitna to Seneca Wallace. There was even a game with Charlie Frye.
Jones became a piece of bedrock for this franchise, something to build upon.
Seattle attempted more than 5,500 passes with Jones on the field, and according to the records of Seahawks coaches, Jones gave up 23 sacks. In 180 career starts, he was penalized for holding nine times.
“It took me a year of being here before I realized this,” said Trent Dilfer, Seahawks quarterback from 2001 to 2004. “Every time we lined up, the best player on the field was my left tackle.”
Dilfer offers a unique perspective. He entered the NFL with Tampa Bay, where he played behind offensive lines that were nothing short of awful. The year before he came to Seattle, he won a Super Bowl with Baltimore, where the Ravens’ line included left tackle Jonathan Ogden, also considered a preeminent player at the position. Jones was something else, though.
“The game was never easier my entire life than it was when Walter was blocking for me,” Dilfer said. “You just never were pressured from your left side.”
Shaun Alexander won the MVP award while playing for Seattle in 2005, but it was Jones who was the dominant force. Dilfer said that over a three-year span that included Seattle’s Super Bowl run, Jones has to be included in the discussion of the game’s best player.
“He was the most dominant player in the National Football League,” Dilfer said.
Jones missed four games because of a sprained ankle his rookie year in 1997. He didn’t miss another game because of injury until 2008. He missed a total of four games over the next 10 years. Two were because of a contract holdout in 2002, and he was held out of the regular-season finales in 2005 and 2007 because Seattle had clinched its playoff seeding.
Hasselbeck started 101 regular-season games behind Jones, but it was the biggest game in this franchise’s history that left one of the most lasting memories.
At Super Bowl XL in Detroit, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Joey Porter spent days leading up to the game working up a verbal lather. When the game started, Hasselbeck said he started talking back.
That’s when Jones told the man he’d be protecting not to worry.
“He just grabbed me,” Hasselbeck said. “And it was maybe the loudest I’d heard him on the field. ‘Please don’t. I got it. Don’t worry. Don’t say anything to this dude. I got this.’ “
Sure enough, Porter finished without a sack. Jones again made his mark not just by what he did, but what he prevented opponents from doing.
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org