Laying it on the line

The only problem with Bryan Millard being voted into the right guard spot on the Seahawks’ 35th Anniversary team is that it left Chris Gray on the outside looking in.

The left guard, of course, is Steve Hutchinson, who generated almost as many votes (1,411) for the reader-selected team as Millard (758) and Gray (656) combined. But when it came to the other guard spot, the readers remembered a player who performed at a high – and at times dominating – level. Even if Millard did it from 1984-91.

As Millard put it in the 18th profile in a series of stories on the players selected to the team, “Think about it. I wasn’t just an offensive lineman; I was an offensive lineman from 20 years ago. So to have the fans remember me is very, very humbling.”

Still, it’s difficult to overlook Gray, who started a club-record 121 consecutive games from 1999-2006 – and 145 overall, at three different positions.

“There’s a guy who doesn’t get enough respect,” said Lofa Tatupu, the middle linebacker on the 35th Anniversary team. “Chris Gray was one of the best O-linemen I ever played against. That was one of the toughest dudes I ever met. And what a nice guy.

“Looking at him, he’s always got that same expression – just kind of stares at you. But get him on the field, man, and he was just unbelievably tough.”

Robbie Tobeck, the center on the 35th Anniversary team, played next to Gray from 2000-06. Tobeck also casts a vote for Gray, by casting a blanket vote for the entire unit that was so dominant during the team’s run to the Super Bowl in 2005.

Left tackle Walter Jones, Hutchinson and Tobeck made the reader-selected team. Gray and right tackle Sean Locklear did not – as Howard Ballard was voted the right tackle, with Locklear finishing third in the balloting at tackle behind Jones and Ballard.

“I would vote for that line,” Tobeck said of the ’05 unit. “I always take that unit as a whole.

“You’ve got a Hall of Famer in Walt and possibly in Steve. But each guy on that line had their place. If you had taken one cog out of there, it’s not the same line.”

That became apparent as Hutchinson left after the ’05 season in free agency, Tobeck retired after the 2006 season, an injury forced Gray to retire during training camp in 2008 and Jones retired last year after spending the 2009 season on injured reserve following microfracture surgery on his left knee.

Together, this foursome played 35 seasons for the Seahawks (13 by Jones, 10 by Gray); started 481 games (180 by Jones, 145 by Gray); and was voted to 13 Pro Bowls (nine by Jones).

Here’s the line on that line, from the player who anchored it:

Tobeck on Jones: “Walt was your shutdown left tackle who had his way of doing things that you kind of followed as an example.”

Tobeck on Hutchinson: “Steve was a heckuva athlete; very strong.”

Tobeck on himself: “I had my role, which was to kind of coordinate it and quarterback it and be the ornery little pisser – the guy who’s always stirring it up.”

Tobeck on Gray: “Chris was our conscience. We wouldn’t have been as good a line without Chris. And what I mean by conscience, he was the guy that was always thinking of the scenario we might get in a game; and reviewing the plays with us; and pulling the notes out that we’d taken during the week and going over them on Saturday or going over them before the game in the locker room. We was constantly talking about what-if scenarios that you don’t have time to cover in your meeting room. About twice a season, he would come up with something and we’d walk out on the field and say, ‘Thank God Chris covered this.’ ”

Tobeck on Locklear: “ ‘Cornbread’ was the young guy we’d mess with. He was just trying to fit in and keep up.”

Tobeck on the entire group: “Everyone was equal in their own way, if that makes sense. It wasn’t like Michael Jordan and the Bulls. It wasn’t Walter Jones and the line. That’s what it’s all about. It’s that family within a family. If your team is a family, if you come together as a family – and you do on those good teams – then the offensive line is a family within that family. And that’s a special thing.”


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