April Madness: Hutchinson vs. Williams

Yesterday: Another day, another rout. This time it was Lofa Tatupu pushing his way into the second round with a convincing “win” over Brian Blades in a matchup of former second-round draft choices.

Tatupu, who was drafted in 2005, received 80 percent of the 1,811 responses, or 1,454 votes – the highest total in the first three matchups. That left Blades, the Seahawks’ top draft choice in 1988, with 357 votes, or 20 percent.

Tatupu’s opponent in that second round? Walter Jones, who got 97 percent of the votes in his first-round match against Shawn Springs.

Today: Steve Hutchinson vs. John L. Williams, in a matchup of two of the best blockers in franchise history. Each was a first-round pick – Hutchinson in 2001, with the second of the team’s two picks in the first round; Williams in 1986. Williams was the 15th pick overall, Hutchinson the 17th.

The road to the Seahawks selecting Williams started with a detour the previous year, when they drafted fullback Owen Gill in the second round. Like Blades, Gill was the team’s top pick because it had traded its first-round choice to the Cincinnati Bengals in 1983 to acquire center Blair Bush.

Gill was not the answer for a team and a coach – Chuck Knox – that desperately needed a fullback. The Seahawks tried to stash Gill on injured reserve when they made their final cuts, to give him some needed seasoning. When Gill balk, he was released.

The need for that fullback persisted, however, so the persistent Knox made the cross-country trip to Florida the next offseason to checkout Williams in the flesh. It turned out to be a match made for Knox’s “Ground Chuck” offense. But Williams could do more than block. A lot more. He rushed for 538 yards and caught 33 passes as a rookie, when he also paved the way for Curt Warner to run for 1,481 yards.

In 1988, Williams rushed for 877 yards and caught a team-high 58 passes. In 1989, he had 76 receptions – one less than Blades. The following season, when Williams was voted to his first Pro Bowl, it was 73 receptions and 714 rushing yards, as well as helping Derrick Fenner find the end zone 14 times. In 1991, another Pro Bowl season, Williams led the team in rushing with 741 yards and was second in receptions with 61. In ’92, he had a team-high 74 receptions and began lead-blocking for a new tailback – Chris Warren.

By the time he was finished, Williams had rushed for 4,579 yards (fourth best in club history) and caught 471 passes (No. 3 all-time behind Steve Largent and Blades).

In addition to all the blocks he dished out for Warner, Fenner and Warren, Williams also delivered one of the best lines in franchise history. Asked once what the “L.” in his name stood for, Williams deadpanned, “It doesn’t stand for anything. It just kind of sits there.”

Hutchinson also had an immediate impact after joining the team in ’01. He stepped in as the starter at left guard as a rookie and remained there until jumping to the Minnesota Vikings in free agency after the 2005 season. In five years with the Seahawks, Hutchinson was voted All-Pro twice (2003 and 2005) and named to the Pro Bowl three consecutive seasons (2003-05).

With Hutchinson playing next to All-Pro tackle Walter Jones on the left side, they formed the best side of any line in the NFL. In 2005, when the Seahawks made their run to the Super Bowl and Shaun Alexander scored a then-NFL record 28 touchdowns en route to being voted league MVP, 19 of Alexander’s 27 rushing touchdowns came while running to the left behind Hutchinson and Jones.

A do-it-all fullback? Or a dominating interior blocker? You make the call.

Tomorrow: Michael Sinclair vs. Kenny Easley.

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