The quiet ways of the Seahawks’ nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle were almost as significant to his story as the dominating plays during his 13-season career. But as he stepped into retirement, Jones also stepped out of character. He appeared at a news conference on Friday, which had been proclaimed Walter Jones Day in the state of Washington by Gov. Christine Gregoire.
“I guess you all know why I’m here,” said Jones, sitting by himself on the auditorium stage at Virginia Mason Athletic Center. “I’ve thought about his day many a times. But you never think about it until you’re live and you’ve got to say the things that, you know, the one thing you don’t want to hear.
“As of yesterday, I’m stepping down from the NFL. My reason for that is that I had to come to the fact that I couldn’t go out and play at a standard that I had set for myself. That was most of my reason. Because I love the game, and my family loves the game. I don’t want to be an embarrassment to them, so I had to be honest with myself.”
Jones said that after first uttering, “Uhhh,” and then clearing his throat.
What followed, however, was a heartfelt and humorous reflection of his unparalleled career – which also included six All-Pro berths and a spot on the NFL’s All-Decade team for the 2000s; and will culminate with his induction into the Seahawks’ Ring of Honor and election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame (after the mandatory five-year waiting period).
The club retired his No. 71 on Thursday, when Jones’ retirement was officially announced.
“That’s a great honor, for them to do that so fast,” he said. “That’s a great honor, you knowing that no one will ever wear that number again. I’m going to cherish it for the rest of my life.”
Jones’ retirement had been expected, because he had not played since having microfracture surgery on his left knee in December of 2008. The procedure cost him the final four games that season. The recovery forced him to sit out all of last season.
“My career has been fun, and there have been some great memories,” Jones said. “I’m going to miss all of that. But you’ve still got to be able to go out and play football. I feel like that’s something I couldn’t do – to be able to go out and give it what I needed to do to be great at my position.”
Not surprisingly for a player who prepared himself so well during his career, Jones came equipped for the moment. He broke out a piece of paper so he would not forget to thank anyone.
It was a lengthy list that included: God, “For giving me the talent and the strength to do the job that I did for so long,” he said; his family and friends; Randy Mueller, who drafted Jones in the first round in 1997; former coaches Dennis Erickson, Mike Holmgren and Jim Mora; former line coaches Howard Mudd, Gregg Smith, Tom Lovat, Bill Laveroni and Mike Solari; former GM Tim Ruskell; his O-line mates, with special shout outs to those in the 2005 unit of Robbie Tobeck, Steve Hutchinson, Chris Gray and Sean Locklear that led the Seahawks to the Super Bowl in 2005; quarterbacks Matt Hasselbeck, Trent Dilfer, Warren Moon and John Friesz; current CEO Tod Leiweke; owner Paul Allen; equipment manager Erik Kennedy; trainer Sam Ramsden and all the team doctors; and the fans.
He made special mention of former team executive Mike Reinfeldt – “For all the contract battles,” he said, a reference to being named the team’s franchise player for three consecutive years before finally signing a lucrative long-term contract in 2005.
It was quite a change for a player who had a reputation for being so somber.
Patrick Kerney, a defensive end who announced his retirement two weeks ago, has heard the tale of how Jones’ stoic ways got started.
“The story stems from his rookie year,” Kerney said. “This was a different time and day, when rookies were actually treated like rookies. Apparently, a bunch of the older offensive linemen were sitting around having a discussion. Walt comes over and chimes in. One of them looks up and says, ‘Shut the (bleep) up, rook.’
“So Walt didn’t talk for the next six years.”
Friday, everyone wanted to hear what Big Walt had to say.
In the crowd during his uncomfortable stint in the spotlight he avoided for most of career were former teammates – including Tobeck, Locklear and Hasselbeck; former owner John Nordstrom; current general manager John Schneider; and a few dozen staff members – including Kennedy, his friend first and equipment manager a distant second.
The news conference was carried live on Seahawks.com, as well as 710 ESPN and KJR.
The fans also have spoken. In the recent “tournament” on Seahawks.com to determine the best draft choice in franchise history, Jones was the runaway winner. PI.com is conducting a poll where fans can vote for the best player in club history – and Jones is again dominating everyone, including Hall of Fame wide receiver Steve Largent.
In the end, Jones left them laughing – and longing for more.
Jones joked about being kidded that he didn’t always know all his teammates, offering, “My approach was, I knew the guys I needed to know.”
Asked about allowing only 23 sacks in 5,703 pass plays, Jones said, “I don’t think I could go back and watch all the films and try to find out what I didn’t do or what I did do. I think on those sacks, it was more the quarterbacks’ fault.”
And of course he couldn’t leave without taking at least one shot at Tobeck, the Seahawks center from 2000-07.
“I respected everybody,” Jones said when asked about the D-linemen he most respected. “I think so many guys can relate to me. As tackles, you don’t want to ever get caught up in that. But you’ve got guys like Robbie Tobeck, who would mouth off at guys he’s not even going against and try to make it tough for us.
“We used to be like, ‘Be quiet, man.’ ”
On this day, even the ever-quiet Walter Jones found his voice.
“I’ve come to this (decision) and I’m happy with it,” he said. “I’m ready to move on to the next chapter of my life.”