A round, retro-blue Seahawks pin showing No. 96 in bold white numbers stood out on the left side of Walter Jones' gold jacket. It was the Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive lineman's way of recognizing Cortez Kennedy, a fellow Hall of Famer and former Seahawks teammate, during the Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony for former Seattle safety Kenny Easley this past August.
For Jones, who spent each of his 12 NFL seasons in Seattle, the act also paid tribute to a close friend who had passed away less than three months prior. Kennedy's death struck a chord across the Seahawks organization and proved particularly difficult for Jones to process.
"It was tough, it was a situation where you didn't know it," Jones said Tuesday on New Day NW. "For me, it was a shock. I got the call, I got the text message, and it was tough."
As professional football readies to kick off its 98th season in 2017, Jones has launched an initiative in Kennedy's honor that Jones believes will help accentuate NFL brotherhood.
'96 CHECK,' a campaign named after Kennedy's jersey number and set to execute on September 6 (9/6), encourages all current and former NFL players, coaches, staff and fans to reach out and check in with an individual they have not talked to in a while, if for nothing else than to say hello and see how life is treating them today.
"When the passing of 'Tez happened, you get a call from a lot of people, but then you'll get that one call from someone that's just asking you how you're doing, and sometimes that can help you get through it," Jones said on NFL Network. "So for me that's why I wanted to start this, to think about those players that weren't the Hall of Famers, the All-Pros, but those guys that went to battle with you, that you made friends with. Everybody on the team from the first man to the 53rd man, that guy was a part of the team, so you don't want to forget those guys."
Jones said Kennedy was someone who used to call him out of the blue, noting he never wanted or needed anything when they would talk, only to know how he was doing.
"He would just check in on me anytime," said Jones. "A random call, it could be early in the morning, it could be late at night, and it'd just be a random call. He didn't want anything, he was just checking up on you."
Those check-ins from Kennedy held a special place in Jones' heart. As a rookie coming into the NFL in 1997, Jones said he admired how the then-eight-year veteran Kennedy carried himself around Seahawks headquarters, aspiring to one day follow in his footsteps as a leader within the organization.
"He was like Mr. Seahawk around here," Jones recalled of Kennedy, who Seattle will honor by wearing No. 96 decals on its helmets throughout the 2017 season. "If you didn't know 'Tez and you didn't hang out with 'Tez, you weren't going to make it far in this organization."
Jones called Kennedy "the guy that you've got to meet" once you knew you'd be putting on the Seahawks blue and green.
"Coming in as a young guy, you watch those guys and you learn to make everybody be a part of the team," he said. "I think 'Tez did a great job of that, of making everybody in the organization a part of the team. You played the game with players, but there's a lot of people upstairs (business operations) that were making things happen that you didn't know about, so you got a chance to meet those people and those people are a part of the team. That's what 'Tez did for me. And being a family man he made sure that all the players got together after practice or during training camp, just get together, the camaraderie, hanging out with friends. That's what 'Tez meant to me."
This Wednesday, Jones plans to pick up the phone and check in on a handful of former teammates, hoping to extend the impact Kennedy had on him in the process.
"Just talking to those guys and asking, 'Hey, how are you doing, man? I just wanted to check up on you,'" Jones said. "I just want all my former players and former Hall of Famers, everybody out there, all those guys that went to battle for you, just sit and take a break and make that call and check in on those guys and ask them how they're doing and how their family's doing and stuff like that. That's how I wanted to get this started."
Take a look back as Walter Jones takes part in the launch of '96 Check' in honor of Cortez Kennedy, a campaign that saw the Seahawks Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive lineman reach out to former teammates on September 6th (9/6), a tribute to Kennedy's jersey No. 96.