Walter Jones was a quiet, unassuming star, one of the best to play left tackle in NFL history.
It’s hard to believe now, but when Walter Jones was entering the 1997 draft, his résumé was as thin as an intern’s. He played only one season at Florida State and had shared time at left tackle.
Entering the predraft phase in 1997, there wasn’t a lot of video on Jones. There wasn’t a lot of early chatter.
Then Jones went through the audition process. And enough film was discovered to verify what coaches, general managers and scouts were seeing with their disbelieving eyes.
“He was phenomenal,” said Howard Mudd, Jones’ first NFL line coach. “When you saw him on tape, he was a finisher. He would take guys and just bury them and run right over the top of them. He was very aggressive, spirited, if you will.”
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Mudd was there in Kirkland, at the beginning when Jones was a soft-spoken rookie with remarkably hard-edged skills.
He was there in the Seahawks’ film room, watching wide-eyed as Jones pancaked opponents. Mudd was there to celebrate when the Hawks chose Jones with the sixth pick.
“He had this phenomenal athleticism,” Mudd said by telephone Tuesday. “Walt is the kind of guy who does things so easily, it almost looks like he’s playing at 75 or 80 percent.
“Like Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods, he never really struggles to get his job done, even when he’s playing against the top NFL players. I don’t think he ever lined up in a game where he thought he was closely matched, athletically, to the guy across from him.”
After 12 seasons and 180 games, after nine Pro Bowl appearances and one trip to the Super Bowl, after spending his entire career with the Seahawks, Walter Jones will retire this week.
This is one of those time passages that is both inevitable and heartbreaking.
“Walt might be as good as anyone who has ever played that position,” said Mudd, who left Seattle after Jones’ rookie season to coach the Indianapolis Colts. “He played at an exceptionally high level all the time. I’d like to say that Walt’s success was because of the great coaching that he got, but that’s not true.
“I don’t mean to minimize anybody who ever coached that guy, but he’s a guy who truly was going to be great in spite of whoever was going to coach him. He just had this quiet, athletic confidence. I don’t think he was ever frightened in his whole career.”
Mudd said the Hawks knew, from the moment Jones first walked onto the practice field, that they had their tackle of the future. Early in that first training camp, Pro Bowl pass rusher Chad Brown competed in one-on-one drills against Jones.
“Eventually Chad quit coming down for those drills,” Mudd said. “He couldn’t beat Walt. It wasn’t even close. I knew in that first training camp that Walt was something extraordinary.”
On the field Jones was this violent, impenetrable force. Then in postgame interviews, he was shy, almost apologetic, for his greatness. He was proud of what he did, but didn’t feel it was necessary to talk about it.
Jones was a star who was bright enough to be his own planet but seemed so unimpressed with what he did. It was almost as if he would have preferred to go unnoticed.
“When we first met him you got the feeling he didn’t think he deserved to be where he was,” Mudd said. “But there was something inside that guy that wasn’t going to be denied.
“There are stories about war heroes who did extraordinary things and then came home and wondered, ‘Why are people fussing over me? I was just doing what I was wired to do.’ That’s how I always felt Walt was. He just believed he was doing what he was supposed to do.”
He was a professional. Sure of himself, without being cocksure.
“The next time I see him, I’d like to tell him, ‘Walt, you should be really, really proud of what you accomplished,’ ” Mudd said. ” ‘I think you had something phenomenal, but you took your talent way beyond that. It was a pleasure just to come along for the ride.’ “
That’s the thing about Walter Jones. Without words, without noise, without a whisper of hyperbole, he made us all feel fortunate to be along for the ride.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org