I first talked to Cortez Kennedy on the day the Seahawks drafted him. I reached him by phone at his Arkansas home, where a party was under way. Over the next 11 seasons, I’m not sure I ever got a really good quote out of him. He was always a mannered gentleman and cooperative, but he was so humble and eager to avoid attention. Especially in the early 90s, he played defensive tackle as few ever had. He was well-deserving of his Hall of Fame honor. Here’s my column on it for the Trib:
By Dave Boling
For much of his career with the Seattle Seahawks, Cortez Kennedy stood head and shoulders above the NFL’s corps of defensive tackles.
Because of his level of dominance, that head and those shoulders will now be cast in bronze and placed in the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer.
The Hall selection committee got this one right on Saturday afternoon by recognizing Kennedy as not only an elite defender, but a player who helped change the game as a force of destruction from the interior line.
It goes beyond that with Kennedy, though, as a player for whom fans could root without reservation.
Those of us who have followed Kennedy since he arrived in 1990 have heard endlessly that ‘Tez,’ as they all called him, was a Hall of Fame teammate, a Hall of Fame guy, a Hall of Fame father, a Hall of Fame friend.
He was considered larger than life as a player (which is saying a great deal given his ample girth), but at the same time may have been the most humble man on the team.
You would ask him to analyze a play in which he overpowered two 300-pounders and then ran down a back from behind, Kennedy would always say: “Just playin’ Seahawks football.”
The man never voiced a complaint about the team’s inept offense nor chronic losing. He deserves a spot in the Hall for that alone.
Kennedy’s inclusion stands as a stunning validation, as individuals with credentials like Charles Haley (five Super Bowl wins) and coach Bill Parcells (two Super Bowl wins) were among those in the final 10 who did not earn the Hall’s signature gold jacket.
This was Kennedy’s fourth time as a finalist. Two factors have worked against Kennedy. He played a position where it is difficult to statistically quantify dominance, and he did so for a somewhat inconsequential and remote franchise. But two factors aren’t an obstacle for somebody so adept at beating double-teams.
This time around, there may have been a better recognition of his effect on the game during his era.
Former News Tribune staffer Mike Sando, now of ESPN.com, presented Kennedy’s case to the selection committee. He put Kennedy’s performance into the context of the NFL in the 1990s, pointing out that only two other defensive linemen matched Kennedy’s eight Pro Bowls in the decade – Reggie White and Bruce Smith.
The others to match that output from their positions were Jerry Rice, Deion Sanders, Emmitt Smith and Derrick Thomas. All are in the Hall of Fame.
Further context: In his 11 seasons, Kennedy played for four coaches and the Seahawks had only two seasons above .500, and one post-season appearance. While fans and national media had little chance to see Kennedy’s rare combination of power and quickness, opponents felt as if they saw too much.
Veteran NFL line coach Alex Gibbs told Sando that Kennedy, alone, made facing the Seahawks a nightmare.
“… it was going to boil down to making a decision,” Gibbs said of preparation to face Seattle. “Do I spend all my time with Cortez or do I deal with those other guys?”
Kennedy demanded double teams, and sometimes that wasn’t enough. As former teammate Dave Wyman told me last year for a column on Kennedy before the Hall of Fame vote, there were times when Kennedy would somehow collapse the entire left side of an opponent’s offensive line. A, B and C gaps, Wyman said … like 300-pound dominoes.
But Kennedy was also the jokester who hid in Wyman’s closet during training camp just for the sheer joy of jumping out and yelling “boo” at him in the middle of the night. “Cortez was a gem, one of the best teammates I ever had,” Wyman said.
Seahawk linebacker Terry Wooden came into the league with Kennedy, and said he was so talented that “sometimes you felt like a kid around him … whenever we needed to have a big play, all eyes were on ‘Tez; it was like we were all thinking, ‘Don’t worry, ‘Tez will rescue us’.”
In the locker room, Kennedy seemed totally unchanged from the guy who came from meager origins in Wilson, Ark. — humble and appreciative of his opportunity to play the game.
Wooden called him the most-popular guy on the team, mostly because he “would never put himself above anybody else … he’s one of the kindest people with the biggest heart you can imagine.”
Hall of Fame voters don’t take that kind of thing into consideration. But it makes it nicer to know this is the kind of man who finally earned the game’s highest honor.