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For the love of the game
Walter Jones might be finished for the season, but he is not done. Not if he has anything to say about it.
That was the emphatic message from the Seahawks’ nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle on Wednesday, a few hours after his unlucky 13th season came to a close because the team placed Jones on injured reserve.
“My next step is to continue to keep working and trying to get back,” Jones said. “I still want to play this game. I still have the love. I like the competition. I still want to go out there and compete with the guys.
“So that’s my No. 1 goal right now, is to continue to keep doing what I’ve got to do to get back on the field for next year.”
Jones, 35, has not been able to practice this season – let alone play – because of persistent pain in his surgically repaired left knee. He had microfracture surgery in December and then a cleanout procedure in August. But the pain remains, and Jones is unable to take anti-inflammatory medication because of a kidney condition.
It’s a combination that has left the most dominant left tackle of his generation feeling pretty human as he attempted to deal with the pain issue in his knee.
“That’s the (biggest) part of it, just feeling comfortable enough to go back out there and play football,” Jones said. “I was always dealing with the situation where I could never get out there and consistently practice, day in and day out, where I felt good about the knee.”
But why even bother? Why not simply call it a Hall of Fame career and wait five years for the honor to match the achievements?
“Because this is what I love,” Jones said. “It’s a game that I have put so much pride in and want to be the best at. So I still want to come out and do my job and play this game.”
Jones speaking to the media late in the day was needed on this day when too many conversations about him turned into what sounded like career eulogies.
“It is too early for a career eulogy,” coach Jim Mora said.
But even with that said, Mora launched into a tribute to the man that has meant so much – and played so well – for the team since that April day in 1997 when the Seahawks made him the sixth pick overall in the NFL draft.
“The excellence that is Walter is probably unparalleled at that position in the history of the game,” Mora said. “This guy has done everything that you could do to be a great player, year in and year out. His level of consistency, his level of excellence is unmatched. He’s a great leader. He’s a great man. He’s a great teammate. He commands the respect of not only his teammates, but players, executives, coaches, fans of the National Football League.
“He’s just been a dominant, dominant, dominant football player for many, many years.”
But wait, there’s more.
“In a world where there’s so much boastfulness now and self promotion, Walter has just gone about his business in a very respectful way, dignified way,” Mora said. “And it’s earned him a lot of respect.”
Jones hasn’t just been voted an offensive co-captain the past two seasons – and three times in the past four – he has received more votes than any other player from his teammates.
“Walt is the heart and soul of this offensive line,” guard Rob Sims said. “We’re going to miss him, and miss his leadership. Hopefully he can just go get better and hopefully we’ll see him next year. He’s still a big part of this team, he’s part of us.
“He’s the best I’ve ever seen. He makes it look easy, but he takes his job very, very seriously.”
Mora has coached against Jones and now coaches Jones. He has enjoyed the relationship from both sides.
“Coaching against him, I always respected his ability,” Mora said. “It was very obvious watching him on film and then playing against him.”
And now? “What was most surprising to me on a day-to-day basis was the athleticism of such a big man. The power. The technique,” Mora said. “And then getting to know him as a person, what a tremendous human being he is.
“He’s so quite, you rarely hear a peep out of him. … If there was a wise man sitting on top of the mountain in the locker room that everyone wanted to go up and talk to, it would be Walter. That’s just who he is. He commands respect.”
It was out of that respect for Jones that the team gave him as long as it did before finally making the move to put him on IR.
“It’s tough,” Jones said. “It’s a tough situation, because I’ve always been there. I’ve always been that guy that when it was time to play football I’ve always been there.
“It was a situation where we just kept pushing back, pushing back, trying to get that date and we never could put a stamp on it and say, ‘OK, this is when I’ll be back.’ So with the decision they made, I was cool with it. You just have to move on.”
In Jones’ view, this is a setback, not a setup for retirement.
“I still love the game. I still love playing the game,” he said. “That’s my approach, that I know I can still go out there and compete with the best of them. So I know if I take this time and get myself right, I still can go out there and compete with the best of them.”