Walter Jones’ advancement in the Hall of Fame voting process got overlooked a bit with our focus on the 2013 success. A few posters wanted a longer discussion of Big Walt’s chances to go from semifinals to finals to Canton.
No arguments here. It’s one of my favorite topics. Of Jones’ 180 games for the Seahawks, I staffed all but one or two, and had my binoculars on the offensive line every snap (give or take a hot-dog run). And I’d say that the somewhat subjective numbers used to evaluate offensive linemen, as impressive as they are for Walt, don’t do really capture his dominance.
In 12 seasons (not counting his season-long IR stay in his final one), Walt made nine Pro Bowls and earned six All-Pro honors. I say that’s short-changing him because he didn’t make a Pro Bowl until his third season, and that’s mostly because the Hawks were not only remote but also ordinary. It struck me that he was worthy as soon as he put on the jersey.
He’s credited with having only 9 holding penalties in his career, and giving up just 23 sacks in more than 5,700 pass plays. As few as that is, 23 seems high. At the end physical problems contributed, but I’d wager many of those were partially due to the quarterback holding the ball too long or collapses by other blockers. Jones didn’t get just physically beaten or tricked at the line more than a handful of times his entire career.
Size and strength played a role, of course, but I think the real root of his success was his balance. The man was never off balance. He had the feet of a dancer, and his technique was flawless. Look at any of the pictures of his set-up; his head is up, his butt is down, his feet are wide, he’s on his toes, and his arms are ready for any move a pass rusher is willing to try.
I remember asking one of the team execs about him when he was drafted, and he said “The minute he steps on the field, he’ll be the best player we’ve got … maybe that we’ve ever had.” What, really? He only played one year at Florida State. “You watch.” He then told me that some had clocked him in the 4.6s in the 40. At 6-5, 305. And he could bench press a truck.
So, Walter shows up for his first Seattle appearance after being drafted, wearing a pair of those carpenter-style work jeans that have the loop for your hammer. He smiled and looked happy and said about five words, which turned out to be his annual verbal production in the media. But it was symbolic … he was here to go to work.
Hard to remember this, but until Walter arrived, the Seahawks had never had a single offensive lineman make the Pro Bowl. From ’76 to his first year getting the honor, in ’99, not one Pro Bowl O-lineman.
Former OC Gil Haskell mentioned last week on KJR Mitch that during the ’05 season, they faced third-and-1 situations 23 times. Every time they ran the ball left over Jones and Steve Hutchinson, and they converted 22 times.
Thanks to the posters for digging up some video tributes to Walter, particularly the block against the Panthers. The thing is, Walter had one like almost every game. That one was showy because he stayed on the same guy all the way to the goal line. More often, he’d block an edge defender until the ball carrier was past him, then he drop him and go to the next level, to pick up a linebacker or safety. One time back in the Kingdome I recall him flattening an end, a linebacker and a cornerback on one sweep.
Mike Holmgren called him the best offensive player he ever coached. We initially assumed he meant offensive lineman. When reminded that he coached Joe Montana, Brett Favre, Jerry Rice, etc. Holmgren nodded his head, yes, he knew that.
Jones played with knee and shoulder issues in the later years. Fans never really knew how much he was limited because there was never a peep out of him. You could tell when he was dinged, occasionally, when somebody (at times a teammate, yes, that’s you, Pork Chop Womack!) rolled up on him. He would rise slowly, and walk back to the huddle gingerly, like a grizzly bear with a thorn in its paw. He almost never came out.
Although he was not a font of insight for those of us in the media, he was always one of the great gentlemen of the game. He was genial and patient and never seemed upset. He made a habit of missing training camp on the years he was “franchised” and not a player on the team or member of the staff resented him for it. He showed up for the season in the same dominating condition.
Will he make it on the first ballot? Baltimore’s Jonathan Ogden did last year. He had a couple more Pro Bowls than Walt (11 to 9), but anybody around the game knows that Jones was every bit as dominant if not more so.
Here’s the AP story on the semifinalists.
Here’s a link to the video of Walter’s block for Shaun Alexander against Carolina in the NFC title game
Here’s a good old feature ’07 on Walter from Greg Bishop of the Times. Quotes from Walt are rare, of course, but this was a great one: “I’m a simple man, I play football.”
Here’s ESPN.com’s Terry Blount calling for Walter to be a first-ballot inductee.
The 15 modern-era finalists will be announced on Jan. 8. The inductees will be announced Feb. 1, the day before the Super Bowl, in New York. What a nice double-header it might make for Seahawks fans.