The last call is always the most emotional for Walter Jones.
As he has done on September 6 for each of the last six years, Walter Jones spent part of his day on the phone, checking in on former teammates and other friends and acquaintances, a quick phone call just to let someone know they're being thought of and that somebody cares about them.
It's something Jones has done on this day, 9/6, every year since 2017 to honor No. 96, Cortez Kennedy, who died that year when he was just 48 years old. And ever year, the final call is to Kennedy's daughter, Courtney.
"On this day, I'm always going to call you, no matter what," Jones told Courtney Kennedy.
When Jones joined the Seahawks as a rookie in 1997, Kennedy was an All-Pro and former NFL Defensive Player of the Year who was already seven seasons into a Hall of Fame career. So it meant the world to the young tackle that a player of Kennedy's stature would take him under his wing. And over the years what really stood out to Jones about Kennedy was how much the star defensive tackle cared about his teammates. In the offseason when the two were on opposite coasts, Jones would get late-night calls from Kennedy, not because anything was wrong, but just because Kennedy wanted to say hi and see how his friend was doing.
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"The thing that made Cortez so special is the way he would check on people," Jones said Tuesday after making a round of calls at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center. "I was here in Seattle, and he was in Florida, and you'd get a phone call at like 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning and you'd think, 'Oh man, is something going on.' But he was just like, 'Hey man, just wanted to check on you, see how you're doing, how your family's doing.'"
After Kennedy died, Jones began to get a sense for how many lives Kennedy touched.
"Once he passed away, I'd hear from other people who'd say, 'Cortez Kennedy would always check on you,'" Jones said. "That's why I wanted to start the Check 96 Initiative. In everybody's life, everybody understands that part of life where you get so busy and you forget to check on those people who meant so much to you. That's what it means to me, just making sure people check in on each other. Once you leave this game, everybody goes their own way, and we get busy."
Often times, Jones' calls can be good-natured banter and catching up, but one of the goals of Check 96 is to also reach players who might need help and not know where to get it or who might not be comfortable asking for help without a nudge from a Seahawks Legend like Jones.
"I tell a guy, if you've got something going on, if I can't help you, I can help lead you in the right direction," Jones said. "There are so many outlets for helping guys, so that's what I want to help do. Because a lot of times with football players, we're taught to be gladiators, we don't speak about our weaknesses, or if our mentals are not there."
And while Check 96 started as a way for former Seahawks players to connect with each other, Jones has also expanded his efforts to also call athletes in other sports, musicians, and just about anyone else he wants to catch up with to let them know they have a friend who is thinking of them.
"Everybody should be 96 checking everybody," Jones said. "Everybody should check in."
Take a look back at photos of Seahawks Legend and Pro Football Hall of Famer Walter Jones. Jones played offensive tackle for 13 seasons, all with the Seattle Seahawks.