'Big Walt' says goodbye to Seahawks, NFL

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RENTON, Wash. (AP) — Now Walter Jones knows how all the defenders he stonewalled for 13 years felt.

The Seahawks' four-time All-Pro and nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle bit his bottom lip, laughed nervously and struggled to control his emotions Friday as he discussed his retirement following two knee surgeries.

After a pause, the 36-year-old sighed, cleared his throat twice and said "the one thing that you don't want to hear" as an athlete: that it's over.

From 1997, when he was Seattle's sixth overall pick out of Florida State, through the 2008 season when a crumbled knee finally beat him, Jones became the standard to which all left tackles aspired — and most defensive linemen succumbed.

That standard is why he's retiring.

"I had to come to the fact that I couldn't go out and play at the standard I had set for myself," Jones said. "I couldn't go out and give what I needed to do to be great at my position."

Then, after another long sigh, Jones said, "It's tough, but I think I'm ready" for retirement. Jones, who is 36, announced his retirement Thursday.

Mike Holmgren has called Jones the best offensive player he's ever coached — and he's coached Joe Montana, Brett Favre, Steve Young and Jerry Rice. As Jones sat alone on a stage at team headquarters Friday, current and former teammates including Robbie Tobeck and Matt Hasselbeck watched from nearby.

The solitary setting was stark contrast to Jones' career as the anchor of Seattle's offensive line, the foundation upon which Holmgren steadied a previously meandering franchise and built a Super Bowl team. It was also the opposite of what Jones said he will miss most, the camaraderie among his teammates.

But it was symbolic of Jones' lonely fight since what ultimately was his final game, on Thanksgiving Day 2008, to make it back from those surgeries.

"I love the game, and my family loves the game," Jones said of his wife, fraternal twins and stepson. "And I don't want to be an embarrassment to them."

No chance of that.

Jones never was one for attention. Yet he's getting it now.

The Seahawks have already retired his No. 71. And Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire declared Friday Walter Jones Day.

Jones' is the third jersey the Seahawks have retired, following No. 80 for Hall of Fame wide receiver Steve Largent and No. 12, for their "12th Man" of passionate fans.

"That's a great honor, for them to do that so fast," Jones said. "I'm going to cherish that for the rest of my life."

The Seahawks will cherish perhaps the finest career they've ever seen.

Jones looked sheepish when asked about these remarkable numbers Seattle's coaches unearthed: he blocked for more than 5,500 pass plays in his career and gave up just 23 sacks and was called for holding just nine times in 180 career games — all starts.

"On those sacks, I think it was more the quarterback's fault," Jones deadpanned, before breaking into a big grin.

Hasselbeck roared from the back along with the rest of the room.

Jones left Aliceville, Ala., High School and got to Florida State in 1995 by way of Holmes Community College in Mississippi. He played just one season for the Seminoles, then left for the NFL draft as a junior.

"All I wanted to do was get my foot in the door. I just wanted to play in the NFL," he said.

Instead Jones blew down that door, and put up a wall.

Within two seasons, the 6-foot-5, 325-pounder became the first Seattle offensive lineman to make a Pro Bowl. He ultimately earned eight more selections, his last for the 2008 season.

Jones led an offensive line that helped Shaun Alexander to what was then the fourth-best rushing game in NFL history, 266 yards against Oakland on Nov. 11, 2001. In 2005, Jones plowed rushing lanes as wide as freeways for Alexander's MVP year. That season ended with Seattle's only Super Bowl appearance, with Jones' offseason training regimen of pushing trucks in the stifling summer heat of his native Alabama gaining national attention.

Through it all, through contracts that made him rich and then richer, Jones wowed teammates with his humility.

The best testament to Jones' value may be found in Seattle's last two years. While he missed the final weeks of the 2008 season and all of '09 following microfracture knee surgery and a follow-up procedure, Hasselbeck had the worst statistical and most injury-filled seasons of his career.

Seattle tried four left tackles in Jones' place last season. They all failed.

After about 15 minutes Friday, Jones paused and bit his lower lip before a team executive ended the session. Jones exhaled. He had cleared his last hurdle to the time off he says he's cherishing, plus an eventual move back to Alabama.

The executive congratulated Jones for breezing through it.

The big tackle looked puzzled and said, "That was easy?"