Leave it up to me to remember today as Star Wars Day (May the Fourth Be With You) and yet we all seemed to blank on Monday, which was Walter Jones Day.
In 2010, after he retired, Governer Christine Gregoire anointed April 30th as Walter Jones Day but considering that I don't see a single news story from this week acknowledging it, should I assume that it was only supposed to be a one-time deal? If so, why should it be? Walter Jones is perhaps the greatest athlete in the history of Seattle.
Kyle Rancourt recently proposed the question at CougCenter of "Who is the greatest athlete you ever saw play?" and the usual suspects popped up. Beyond just looking at anyone in any city (Jordan, Woods, Bonds) it's important to recognize the ones that we rooted for and the ones that kept us coming back over and over again to teams that didn't exactly have a reputation for winning. We are Seattle fans, therefore we are open to being miserable. However, what has always kept me from being so miserable was knowing that even if we didn't always win, we have enjoyed a long run of having some of the greatest players in sports history.
Junior. Big Unit. Edgar. The Glove. The Reign Man. Largent. Krieg. Hasselbeck. Ichiro. King Felix.
There's two lists: perhaps an obvious list and a not-so-obvious list. The not-so-obvious list probably contains players of opinion, players that are disputable but then there are the guys that can't be disputed like Griffey. Like Gary Payton. And without a doubt, like Walter Jones.
But Jones isn't as obvious to people because that's the nature of being an offensive lineman. For nearly any other job in sports, whether you're a wide receiver, a right fielder, a power forward, or a closer, you're job is going to get you recognized. It doesn't matter if you're the trash-talking Gary Payton or the quiet goes-about-his-business Ichiro, you're on SportsCenter. You're in a record book. You're name and your face are everywhere. But to be an offensive lineman, you're job is to actually not be noticed. Because most of the time if you're hearing an offensive lineman's name called out it's because he had a penalty or he allowed a sack.
I can't help but recall the number of times I heard James Carpenter's name last season.
Yet the only time I remember hearing Walter Jones name was during his annual holdouts (that never slowed him down for a second) and when it was time to announce Pro Bowlers and All-Pros. Or when John Madden referred to him as the best player in the NFL in 2004 and maybe the best left tackle to ever play the game. Or Mike Holmgren saying he was the best offensive player he had ever coached. Or when he was named to the NFLs All-Decade Team, First Team selection.
In an era that included future Hall of Fame left tackles like Jonathan Ogden, Orlando Pace, and (current HoF) Willie Roaf, Jones has been, and rightfully should be, the best of the bunch. And we were the ones that were lucky enough to see it for 180 games over 12 seasons. We were the ones that got to see him pave the way for three 1,000+ yard seasons by an aging Ricky Watters. We were the ones that got to see him open lanes for an MVP season by Shaun Alexander. We were the ones that got to see him truly protect the blind side of players like a 41-year-old Warren Moon and an immobile Jon Kitna. Just how bad could the Seahawks have been if they didn't have Walter Jones? Thankfully, we will never have to know and we should be forever grateful to have seen him play in the same way that I'm grateful that I get to see Ichiro, and Felix, and Earl Thomas.
It's a lot harder to assign statistics to offensive lineman so it's a lot harder for the laymen to judge them. But know this: When Jones retired, the Seahawks coaching staff said that over the course of 5,703 pass attempts, Jones allowed 23 sacks and was called for nine holding penalties. That's one holding penalty for every 633 pass attempts and two sacks per season.
We won't ever see that again.
Let's all take a moment this week to remember Walter Jones and be grateful for the sacrifices he made to his body to play for the Seattle Seahawks and treasure the fact that he spent twelve seasons here, not a single game anywhere else, and in 2015 will be inducted into the Hall of Fame as a member of our team.
Thank you, Mr. Jones.
And remember, the next time somebody asks you "Who was the greatest player you ever saw?" just tell them: "I once went twelve years without noticing Walter Jones."