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No. 96 becomes Priority One
As Cortez Kennedy was cajoling, rolling and wise-cracking his way through an interview session the day before he was induced into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August, the former Seahawks defensive tackle was asked about the oddity that was former teammate Walter Jones having his number retired before he was elected to the Hall.
“I thought he should have had his jersey retired after mine,” Kennedy offered. “But that’s OK, Walter. I’m in the Hall of Fame, so now you’ll have to follow me.”
To punctuate the good-natured jab at the former nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle, Kennedy stuck in face into one of the TV cameras that were surrounding and said, “Naaaah.”
Sunday, it will be Kennedy’s turn to have his number retired as he completes the Triple Crown of post-career achievements. During a halftime ceremony at the Seahawks’ game against the New England Patriots at CenturyLink Field, Kennedy’s No. 96 will be added to those of Jones (71) and Hall of Fame wide receiver Steve Largent (80) as the only players in franchise history to have their numbers hang from the rafters at the stadium.
“This is the icing on the icing on the cake,” Kennedy said. “The (Pro Football) Hall of Fame was the icing on the cake and to come up there and get my jersey retired is the double icing on the cake.”
The first number to be retired was 12, in honor of the team’s fans in 1984. Then came Largent, in 1995, six years after he had been inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor and the same year he entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Jones took a reverse path. He will be inducted into the Ring of Honor, and likely will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. But the club retired his number in 2010, the year after a knee injury forced him to retire.
While Largent was a leader and the leading receiver on the teams that won the Seahawks’ first division title (1988), played in the club’s first conference championship game (1983) and advanced to the playoffs four times (1983, 1984, 1987 and 1988), Jones was a building block of a cornerstone on the teams that surpassed those achievements two decades later – including playing in the franchise’s only Super Bowl as part of a run that included winning four division titles in row and earning five consecutive playoffs berths (2003-07).
Kennedy, meanwhile, had some of his best seasons in what were some of the worst seasons in franchise history. Like 1992, when he was selected NFL Defensive Player of the Year after collecting 93 tackles and 14 sacks for a team that went 2-14. Like 1993, when he had 77 tackles and 6.5 on a team that was 6-10 and lost nine of its final 12 games. Like 1996, when he had 69 tackles and eight sacks on the team that was 7-9 and lost five of its first seven games.
During his 11-season career, Kennedy played in one postseason game and on “Monday Night Football” four times. So his definitely worth-seeing efforts were seen by very few.
“America really never got to see Cortez Kennedy, because he played in the 90s before you had DirecTV and the national coverage that the Seahawks get now,” said Terry Wooden, a member of the same Rookie Club draft class as Kennedy in 1990 who was a starting linebacker for seven seasons. “America missed out on seeing a pretty dominant player. Tez would have made (the Hall of Fame) earlier if more people had actually seen him play. If they had, it would have been a no-brainer.”
Then there is the fact that Kennedy did his considerable thing in Seattle, one of the more remote NFL outposts.
“If Tez had played in New York or Dallas, oh my goodness,” said former Pro Bowl free safety Eugene Robinson, who played with Kennedy from 1990-95. “They would have changed the rules. Tez would have been in the Hall (of Fame) before his career was over. He was that good. He was that dominating.”
Kennedy was so good and so dominating that he forced former defensive line coach Tommy Brasher to reword of his strictest rules.
“The thing that made him so great is that he just had super instincts. I changed a lot of my rules for him,” said Brasher, the team’s D-line coach from 1992-98. “I always had a rule that you could not run around a block. But I changed that rule when I started coaching him, and the rule became: You can’t run around a block, unless you make the play. And Cortez did that a lot.
“Ninety percent of the people are not quick enough to run around a block and make the play. And he never did it unless it was the right thing to do. And he didn’t know it was the right thing to do, his instincts told him it was the right thing to do. So he taught me that sometimes great players are not subject to average rules.”
And make no mistake, Kennedy was a great player. That’s why the Seahawks traded up to the third spot in the 1990 NFL Draft to select him. That’s why in ’92 he became only the second player in franchise history to be selected NFL Defensive Player of the Year (Kenny Easley was the first in 1984). That’s why he was voted to eight Pro Bowls. That’s why he was inducted into the Seahawks’ Ring of Honor in 2006. That’s why his bust was added to the collection at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August.
That’s also why his number is being retired on Sunday, when Kennedy also will receive his Hall of Fame ring on what will be Cortez Kennedy “Tez” Day by proclamation of the Seattle City Council.
Kennedy deserves it all – because of the player that he was, and the person that he is.
“Cortez was a gentle giant off the field. Everybody loves him,” said Warren Moon, the Hall of Fame quarterback who played with and against Kennedy and now is the analyst for radio broadcasts of Seahawks games.
“There’s nobody that you talk to about Cortez Kennedy that doesn’t like the guy. I think that’s a good quality, too, especially for a big guy like that. Most big guys, they intimidate most other people. Not Cortez. He’s a big friendly giant.”
And Sunday, Kennedy will take the gigantic leap that is having his retired number added to those of Largent, Jones and the team’s fans.