If you start cataloging the many volumes of praise for Walter Jones, a pretty decent place to start might be a comment from his former coach, Mike Holmgren, who called him the best offensive player he ever coached.
Remember that Holmgren also coached such players as Jerry Rice, Joe Montana and Brett Favre. Mere inclusion in that discussion would mean that Walter Jones was among the best players in the history of the National Football League.
Note the use of the past tense. Jones, 36, announced his retirement from the Seattle Seahawks today – the result of the cumulative physical toll of 13 years in the league, which caused him to be sidelined most of the past two seasons.
The news releases will mention his nine Pro Bowls, and will attempt to quantify his dominance on the field and his widespread regard as one of the best left tackles to ever play.
Harder to capture is the impact on this franchise of his quiet demeanor and professionalism, and how many teammates and fans were moved by his unwavering dignity and humility.
This region never had a superstar who managed to go so unexamined, who kept such a low profile. That’s who Walter Jones is and always will be; singular and unique, a man unto himself.
Former Hawks general manager Randy Mueller recalled when the team brought him to its headquarters for an interview the week before the 1997 draft.
“He was wearing a sweatshirt and jeans and he didn’t say ‘Boo’ the whole time he was here,” Mueller said. “He was hard to get a read on, but you knew he was uncomplicated and pure.”
Uncomplicated and pure … not modifiers generally applied to superstar athletes.
“And he never changed,” Mueller said. “He just kept working, kept his mouth shut, and kept getting better and better. In 25 years, I’ve never been around anybody like him. We’re all very fortunate to have had time with him.”
Friend and fellow Seahawks lineman Robbie Tobeck certainly spent a great deal of time with Jones, and shared some of his insights on the Walter Jones that fans never got to know.
“He’s more of a competitor than people realize,” Tobeck said. “He’s so good and has such great ability, it almost looks effortless when he’s putting somebody on his back. And the reason for it is how hard he works. He wasn’t some superstar who took days off. He’s also one of toughest human beings I’ve ever been around … the man laughs at pain.”
Laughs at pain? Tobeck told of going into the training room late one season when Jones’ shoulder was in dire need of surgery. The trainers were moving his arm to stretch it out into the range of pain. Jones’ response? Laughter.
Because of Jones’ reputation, pass rushers would gear up to try to make their mark against him. Many would try to get in his mind by talking trash.
“Walt would always just ignore them, but it would tick me off and I’d talk trash back for Walt,” Tobeck said. “Walt never said a word, but once the game started, he just wore those guys out.”
Game after game, film studies in the offensive line meeting room would highlight remarkable efforts by Jones, but, according to Tobeck, Jones never made a comment. The other linemen were in awe, though.
“Chris Gray always sat behind me and he’d say, ‘Get ready, wait ’til you see what Walt does on this play,’ ” Tobeck said.
Tobeck remembered one play when San Diego Chargers safety Rodney Harrison came flying toward the pile just before the whistle, looking to nail an unwary lineman. Jones caught him out of the corner of his eye, and when Harrison was about to unload on him, “Walt just barely flexed his elbow and Harrison went flying,” Tobeck said.
Everybody cheered. Jones said nothing.
“You talk about having pride, but not being prideful … he was the epitome of that,” Tobeck said. “A lot of guys with that kind of ability could go a lot of different ways; I was always amazed at how humble he was.”
Tobeck thinks that Jones is a product of his early environment, growing up modestly in the rural South. He never seemed interested in the spotlight.
“I was always intrigued by something he used to say,” Tobeck said. “He used to say that he never wanted to play for anybody but the Seahawks because he didn’t want to have to (get to know) more people.”
In the end, fame, wealth, success and acclaim never affected Walter Jones in the least.
We may expect him to slip into retirement, presumably in a sweatshirt and jeans – just as he arrived.
He may not have changed. But he changed the nature of this franchise, influenced the people around him, and may have forever altered the way people will judge others who attempt to play the position he mastered.
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440