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Kennedy as conscience
Cortez Kennedy’s Hall of Fame-worthy career wasn’t all disruptive mayhem and body-slam tackles.
During his 11-season stay with the Seahawks, the eight-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle also became a barometer – and at times reality-check gauge – for events that also helped shape the franchise off the field.
It seems fitting, because with Kennedy’s bigger-than-life persona came some tough life lessons.
Like in 1996, when then-owner Ken Behring was attempting to move the franchise to Southern California. Behring was determined to make it happen, and even started the team’s offseason conditioning program at the Rams’ old facility in Anaheim.
But Kennedy’s resolve proved to be just as firm. He refused to participate; pointing out that the contract he had signed was with the Seattle Seahawks.
Kennedy’s decision exasperated David Behring, Ken’s son and the club president, to the point where he took Kennedy to task during an interview with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
“Cortez has a tendancy to be overweight, particularly in the offseason,” Behring said on March 24, 1996. “He doesn’t have the work ethic that many of the other players have. He lacks, and fails to display, the team leadership that a player of his caliber and at that stage of his career should have.”
And that was the P.C. version, as Behring initially called Kennedy “fat, lazy and lacking leadership” before toning down his displeasure.
After it was announced that the team was moving back to its facility in Kirkland, Kennedy offered, “It’s good we’re coming back to Seattle. Let’s get with it. We signed to play in Seattle; this is where we belong. Let’s stay here.
“I’ve got to do what my heart says, and my heart says to be in Seattle. I talked to some guys down there (in Anaheim) today, and they’re excited to get back.”
The very next day after making his disparaging comments, Behring apologized.
“I want to apologize for my public comments regarding Cortez Kennedy,” Behring said on March 25. “My statements were an emotional response to a reporter’s question regarding Cortez’s … action and its effect on the team.
“Cortez has been part of this organization since 1990 and will continue to have an important role in this team’s future success. Cortez and I have enjoyed a good relationship over the years and I hope to be present when Tez is inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.”
The next step in that process could come on Saturday, when the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2012 will be selected in Indianapolis. Kennedy is a finalist for the fourth consecutive year, in a 17-man group that lacks the “shoo-in” candidates that helped block his selection in previous attempts.
But back to 1996, and flash forward to December – when, just before kickoff at a game in the Kingdome, Behring presented Kennedy with the Steve Largent Award that has been bestowed annually since 1989 to the player “who best exemplifies the spirit, dedication and integrity of the Seahawks.”
Kennedy also had eight sacks, 69 tackles and 13½ tackles for losses that season – in his best season since being named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1992 – and was voted to his sixth consecutive Pro Bowl.
Kennedy and Behring did patch up their relationship, to the point where Kennedy made a stop in the San Francisco Bay Area to visit Behring in 2006 on his way to Seattle for his induction into the team’s Ring of Honor.
Kennedy as the conscience of the club also surfaced in 1998, during the final days of Dennis Erickson’s four-season stint as coach. Kennedy had played for Erickson at the University of Miami, and Erickson’s hiring in 1995 after leading the Hurricanes to two national titles was viewed as the arrival of an X’s and O’s savior for a franchise that had gone 2-14, 6-10 and 6-10 in three seasons under Tom Flores.
But as Erickson’s final season was slip-sliding away with four losses in the final seven games, Kennedy confided, “My boy’s lost it.” Asked what he meant by that, Kennedy said, “The inmates are running the asylum.”
A few weeks later, Erickson had lost his job – and was replaced by Mike Holmgren, who would coach the Seahawks to the most successful five-season stretch in franchise history (2003-07).
Asked recently about these situations that transcended his accomplishments as a player, Kennedy said, “That was a long time ago. But I was just doing what I felt was best for the team.”
Obviously, all of Kennedy’s best reads and reactions were not limited to the field.