I half-expect to find out next week that some sort of clerical error explains why Cortez Kennedy’s name did not appear on the list of 111 preliminary nominations for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s class of 2007. On the surface, this is a big-time oversight. Kennedy retired after the 2000 season. Hall rules say a player can be considered for enshrinement five years after his exit from the game. Kennedy has met that requirement. I made his omission the subject of my Sunday column, which is included below.
This column was written Friday. I called the Hall of Fame to make sure Kennedy’s name, in fact, was not on the list. After receiving confirmation, I called a Hall voter who said he had voted for Kennedy’s inclusion on the list. This seemed to confirm that Kennedy’s name had not been left off through some accident. I regret not having the time to pursue this to an even greater extent before writing my Sunday column, but I will follow up next week. In the meantime, here are some of my thoughts via audio, followed by the column below.
By Mike Sando
The News Tribune
Fifteen former NFL offensive linemen made the list of 111 preliminary nominations for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, class of 2007.
Bruce Matthews, Randall McDaniel and Dermontti Dawson head the list of guards and centers. Mark Stepnoski, Steve Wisniewski and Russ Grimm deserve strong consideration, too. And don’t forget about Bob Kuechenberg, Kent Hull, Jay Hilgenberg and Jeff Van Note.
Great players, all. Strong candidates for the Hall of Fame. The very finest of their era. Any era.
On their best days, a few of them could have blocked Cortez Kennedy without double-team help on every play. They would have needed help most of the time. Everyone did. But the great ones might have held their own against “Tez” on a part-time basis. Maybe.
Which begs the question: How could Hall of Fame selectors leave off Kennedy from the list of 111 preliminary nominees?
Ben Coates, a very good tight end for New England, made the list. Kennedy’s old teammate, Ricky Watters, is on the list. Neither was half as dominant as Kennedy, but the point isn’t to disparage others on the list. All deserve consideration.
But only a handful of the 111 deserve a longer look than Kennedy. He appeared in eight Pro Bowls, one more than Steve Largent, the only long-time Hawk enshrined in Canton. Kennedy was the NFL’s defensive player of the year on a 2-14 team. He was one of four defensive tackles on the NFL’s all-decade team for the 1990s.
For three or four years, Kennedy could not be blocked. The rest of the time, he was still recognized among the best.
Legends can grow as memories fade with time, but any Hall of Fame elector knows the tapes don’t lie.
Some rummaging through a dank closet downstairs produced one of the tapes I wanted: a Seahawks-Raiders game from the Kingdome in 1992.
Seattle fielded the worst offense in NFL history that season, but the defense was more than respectable. Kennedy was at his best that year and Wisniewski was the Raiders’ All-Pro guard at the time.
The first few series confirmed everything I remembered about Kennedy in his prime.
The Raiders’ first drive ended with Kennedy matched one-on-one against Wisniewski. Kennedy swiftly brought down the fullback for a 3-yard loss. I had to rewind the play a few times to see if Wisniewski ever touched him. If he did, Kennedy didn’t seem to notice.
On another early possession, Kennedy pile-drived Raiders quarterback Todd Marinovich — remember him? — almost before Wisniewski could get out of his stance. Trainers carried Marinovich off the field.
Jay Schroeder replaced him. The Raiders adjusted by double-teaming Kennedy with Wisniewski and Don Mosebar.
Those Raiders teams didn’t have great quarterbacks, but Wisniewski and Mosebar formed one of the best center-guard combos in the league.
Wisniewsi went to eight Pro Bowls in 12 seasons, including seven in a row. Mosebar was a three-time Pro Bowl center. The two of them could usually handle Kennedy together, but Schroeder went down hard the first time Mosebar found himself manned up.
Replays showed Kennedy getting off the ball so quickly that Mosebar barely grazed him with one hand.
Kennedy finished that 1992 season with 92 tackles (76 solo), an astounding total for a defensive lineman. He had 14 sacks, five passes defensed and four forced fumbles.
One great season doesn’t get a player into the Hall of Fame, but Kennedy enjoyed several. Eight Pro Bowls attest to that. Kennedy was durable, too. He never missed a game in his first seven seasons. He played in 167 games over 11 seasons, with 58 sacks.
In 1999, his second-to-last season, Kennedy finished with 74 tackles, seven sacks, seven passes defensed and two interceptions.
The Seahawks weren’t on national television much then. They weren’t winning playoff games. Those things matter to electors. But should they stall the candidacy of one of the game’s most dominant players?
Nine defensive linemen earned spots on the Hall’s preliminary list of 111: Fred Dean, Richard Dent, Chris Doleman, Charles Haley, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Joe Klecko, Dexter Manley, Charles Mann and Fred Smerlas.
Can any of them top Kennedy’s resume? The question won’t come up when electors meet during Super Bowl week.
This was Kennedy’s first year of eligibility, so he has time.
But right now, a few months after Kennedy’s 38th birthday, a panel of middle-aged men finally found a way to block him.
Looks like a clear case of holding to me.