“From Day One, once I got in the league, that was the standard that I set – that I wanted to be a guy that when you talk about offensive linemen I wanted my name to come up.” – Walter Jones, July 28, 2014
Now that Jones is about to go where every player wants to get, but the only crème de la crème are allowed, it’s worth revisiting how he became a Seahawk and how quickly he became a player that was an obvious choice to be elected to and enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame – which will happen on Saturday in Canton, Ohio.
How he got here – The Seahawks had their sights set on Jones in the 1997 NFL Draft, despite the fact that the athletically gifted left tackle played only one season at Florida State. But they also wanted Shawn Springs, the cornerback from Ohio State.
When then-vice president of football operations Randy Mueller called the New York Jets to complete the trade, he was informed the Jets had traded the pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. As Mueller was uttering, “Damn,” and before he removed his hand from the receiver, the telephone rang.
It was the Buccaneers, offering the No. 6 pick to the Seahawks for less – the No. 12 pick in the first round and a third-round selection – than they were prepared to give the Jets.
“It was an unbelievable experience,” Mueller would later say. “You go from thinking you’re in position to get Walter Jones to having the deal fall apart in a matter of seconds. Then, just as quickly, you have the pick – for less than you were expecting to give up – and you’re drafting Walter Jones.”
The significance of that now-you-have-him, now-you-don’t, now-you-do-again moment in franchise history cannot be overstated. Over the next 12 seasons (he spent 2009 on injured reserve), Jones would be voted to a franchise-record nine Pro Bowls, named All-Pro six times and selected to the NFL Team of the Decade for the 2000s.
The difficulty when you play offensive line is that there just aren’t the statistics available to make the comparisons from other lineman to another, one generation to another.
Not with Jones. In 5,703 passing plays during his career, which included 180 starts, Jones allowed 23 sacks – or one every 248 pass plays. In 12 seasons, he was called for holding nine times.
“That’s unbelievable,” Mueller would say when Jones was announcing his retirement in 2010. “That might be as good a stat as I’ve ever heard.”
How quickly he became a player that was worthy of being considered an eventual Hall of Famer – Jones was a late arrival to training camp in that summer of ’97 because his contract was being worked out. He didn’t report to Eastern Washington University until Wednesday in a week when the Seahawks would play their third preseason game on Saturday night against the 49ers in San Francisco.
And the obvious man to answer that question: Howard Mudd, the veteran line coach. Mudd had crashed his bicycle while riding around the EWU campus and injured a knee, so he was getting from Point A to Point B in a golf cart. As I was walking back from the practice field, I heard a cart approaching. It was Mudd.
“I hear you’re looking for me,” he said.
“I am,” I replied.
“Then get in,” Mudd said.
As we made our way from the practice fields to the dining hall, Mudd said all the things he was supposed to say: Jones would see spot action. We don’t want to throw too much at him in this first game. He’s only a rookie who has missed so much of training camp.
Then Mudd offered, “Are we done?” When I nodded and thanked him, he pointed at my tape recorder and said, “Then turn that thing off.”
So the legend of Walter Jones was off and running – or blocking, in this case.
Reminded of our exchange several years later, when Mudd was the line coach for the Indianapolis Colts and Jones had been to five Pro Bowls, Mudd laughed and said, “I don’t remember that as vividly as you do, but that sounds about right.”
Just like Walter Jones Hall of Famer sounds right.
“When people see you now, people say, ‘Oh that’s a Hall of Famer, Walter Jones,’ ” Jones said Monday. “That’s something where you say, ‘Man, I did it the right way.’ ”
Yes he did, and from Day One.