Welcome back to our Throwback Thursday blog. Each week, we spotlight one of our favorite throwback superstars. We choose these stars using a rigorous scientific process we know in-house as “Whoever Nick Feels Like Writing About This Week Unless Somebody Who Can Stop His Paycheck Says Differently.” This week’s Throwback Thursday is about one of Seattle’s most beloved legends, and one of footballs most physically astonishing superstars: Walter Jones.
You wouldn’t know it from today’s team, but in the mid 2000s, one of Seattle’s calling cards was a dominating offensive line. Nobody was a bigger part of that than Big Walt, a 6’5, 315 bulldozer with ballerina footwork who surrendered only 23 sacks over 180 games in his career—that’s less than 2 sacks per season. For comparison’s sake, there are left tackles in the league today who surrendered more than two sacks this week.
Jones’ impossible combination of size, strength, smarts, and speed—and shocking agility—made him almost impossible for opposing defenders to gain ground on. On the other hand, he didn’t have too much trouble gaining ground on them; perhaps his most famous play came in the 2005 NFC championship game, when he turned opposing Pro Bowler Mike Rucker into a human battering ram. Jones not only pancaked Rucker about fifteen yards, but used the 275 pound defensive end to bat aside two other defenders for star Seattle running back Shaun Alexander. Jones’ excellent play, both on that specific stampede and throughout, proved instrumental in getting Seattle to its first Super Bowl appearance.
Speaking of Alexander, running behind Jones that season he set a then NFL record by scoring 28 touchdowns (a record that still sits in second place). Jones had a lot to do with it. Nevermind being nigh-impenetrable on the line, Jones was the rare offensive tackle with the footspeed to plow a course ahead of his teammate—on that famous NFC championship play, it’s hard not to notice that Jones (and a something-less-than-thrilled-about-it Rucker) are going just about as fast as Alexander is.
With Jones, though, Seattle fans' love for him goes deeper than his stats, skills, and astonishing physicality. His one-of-a-kind personality always shown through, a larger than life character to fit his larger than life body. One example of his unique sense of humor? Naming his children Walterius and Waleria. Another? A famous laugh that was even bigger than he was... and they didn't call him "Big Walt" for for nothing.
Often sitting out training camp due to contract disputes that were always resolved, showing up for the season in world class shape and ready to play every time. Where most athletes use weights to build strength; Walter used SUVs, which he’d push around by hand. Whenever he got a bigger contract, he got a bigger SUV to shove.
By all accounts one of the kindest and most humble (while still competitive and ambitious) souls in the locker room, teammates relayed seemingly endless stories of Big Walt’s big laughs, of his eagerness to dance, of his calm, quiet confidence and camaraderie. He was beloved by the men who played beside him, and perhaps even more by the city and state he played in. After his retirement, the state of Washington declared April 30th to be “Walter Jones Day,” an honor not even Seahawks legends like Largent and Kennedy share.
Ultimately, Jones was everything we want from our star athletes. On the one hand, he played the game at the absolute highest possible level, at one point even being named by the Sporting News as the best player in the league (2006). He redefined how much impact an offensive tackle could have, and set the bar higher for every would-be “best tackle ever.” But at the same time, he was also a charismatic and unique force of nature, a personality too bright to hide behind a helmet or the usual anonymity of a lineman. He wasn’t just a great player, he was a character fans invested in.
So much more than just the big plays he made (and there were plenty), Walt wasn’t merely the heart and soul of the Seahawks—though he was certainly that, too—he was the human face packed with humor and conviction and idiosyncrasy that brought an extra level of pathos to the game. He turned it into fantastic narrative television, with him featuring as the breakout character within a winning ensemble, and captured the imagination of an entire fanbase, city, and state.