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A special 'thank you,' Tez style

Posted Feb 8, 2012

Cortez Kennedy returned to Seattle on Wednesday to say thanks to those who "helped" him in his quest to become a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2012.

Cortez Kennedy, Hall of Fame defensive tackle.

It does have a nice ring to it. Nice ring? Make that an Alarm of Relief.

Kennedy, who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, made a hastily scheduled trip to Seattle on Wednesday so he could take a small group of those who “helped” in his Hall quest to lunch. After the meal – and an endless series of stories and tales; some that can’t be repeated, others that won’t – Kennedy was asked if his career would have been complete without the recognition to match his Hall of Fame-worthy career.

“You know something? We don’t have to talk about that anymore,” he said, punctuating the statement with one of his rumbling laughs that were as much his trademark as the body-slam tackles he cranked out during his 11 seasons with the Seahawks.

“I’m a Hall of Famer now. So we don’t ever have to talk about that again. It’s done. It’s over with. Like the ‘Big Show’ Holmgren says, ‘It’s done. It’s over with. Forget it.’ I don’t want to hear it no more.”

That, of course, was a reference to Mike Holmgren, Kennedy’s fourth and final coach during his career that began in 1990 and ended after the 2000 season. But his response also provided an indication of just how much the honor – the overdue honor – means to Kennedy.

While he said all the right things leading up to this year’s selection process, as well as the previous three years when he also was a finalist, the reaction to that completing-his-career question shows how much Kennedy wanted this – which was, almost as much as he deserved it.

“It hit me that I’m a Hall of Famer, but you still can’t believe it because of the magnitude of the situation being in the Hall of Fame,” he said. “When you get a call from Steve Largent congratulating you; you get a call from John Randle saying congratulations; Michael Irvin; Marshall Faulk; guys that I played with. That was very special.”

But Kennedy plans to follow what was an emotional whirlwind of a weekend with a little down time. And it’s hard to blame him. Never one to seek the spotlight, he could not escape it after the Saturday afternoon announcement of his inclusion in the Class of 2012 on national TV. Kennedy and his 16-year-old daughter, Courtney, flew from their home in Orlando, Fla., to Indianapolis on Sunday morning, so the man everyone calls Tez could be introduced prior to the Super Bowl between the New York Giants and New England Patriots.

He also was fitted for his gold Hall of Fame jacket and measured for his bust that will be on display in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, after his induction on Aug. 4. The quick trip to Indy also allowed Kennedy to hang with the other five members of his class – running back Curtis Martin, defensive lineman Chris Doleman, center Dermontti Dawson, tackle Willie Roaf and senior-committee nominee Jack Butler.

But after sending Courtney back to Orlando on Monday, Kennedy headed for Seattle – and that thank-you lunch with Dave Pearson, Seahawks vice president of communications, broadcasting and web content; Mike Sando and John Clayton of ESPN.com, who covered the Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune during Kennedy’s career; Dave Boling, a columnist for the News Tribune; Scott Johnson of the Everett Herald; and Art Thiel and myself, who covered the Seahawks for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer when Kennedy was dominating the decade of the 1990s.

That gesture speaks volumes about Kennedy, and his character. He had plenty of other opportunities this week, including some that would have involved compensation. But he’d rather have the time to reflect on what just happened, and what it means.

“You wouldn’t believe some of the stuff I’ve said ‘no’ to,” he offered. “But this was important to me, to have this chance to thank you guys for everything you’ve done.”

Sando made Kennedy’s presentation to the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee on Saturday and, as he puts it, Kennedy got himself into the Hall of Fame, while others helped remind the committee members just how good he was.

Once the announcement was made, Kennedy’s cell phone “went crazy,” he said. There were calls from former teammates and coaches; friends and relatives; even some acquaintances that he had almost forgotten about.

“I never had so many phone calls. I never had so many text messages,” Kennedy said.

There were even a couple of calls that surprised him from Senators Mark Pryor of Arkansas (Kennedy’s home state) and Bill Nelson from Florida.

“That was very cool to have two Senators call me,” Kennedy said.

Also very cool is Kennedy’s choice to make his presentation speech in August: Dixie Fraley Keller, the former wife of his late agent and advisor, Robert Fraley.

“I decided on Dixie because Robert was my mentor,” Kennedy said of Fraley, who died in a 1999 plane crash that also claimed the life of golfer Payne Stewart. “Most of the stuff that I do in my life is because of how Robert raised me and how he wanted me to handle situations.”

Like the way Kennedy is handling being a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“I’m very humbled getting into the Hall of Fame,” Kennedy said. “It means a lot. And I always say, it means a lot to the Seahawks organization and the Seahawks fans. That’s what it’s all about.”