Now that Cortez Kennedy is finally a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, we have one last question: What took so long?
Kennedy retired after the 2000 season as the most-decorated defensive player in Seahawks history, and one of the most dominant defensive tackles in the annals of the NFL. Eight Pro Bowls. Four All-Pro berths. NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1992. A member of the NFL All-Decade team for the 1990s.
So why did it take 12 years for Tez to take his rightful place among the best to ever play the game?
For starters, there’s a football twist to that old real estate agent mantra: Location, location, location. Kennedy played his entire 11-season career with the Seahawks in Seattle – one of the more remote and overlooked NFL outposts.
Simply put, if more people had seen Kennedy during his career that included two winning seasons (1990 and 1999), four appearances on “Monday Night Football” (1990, 1992, 1999 and 2000) and one playoff game (1999), well, it’s like Eugene Robinson said last week.
“If Tez had played in New York or Dallas, oh my goodness,” said Robinson, Kennedy’s teammate from 1990-95 and also on the Seahawks’ 35th Anniversary team. “They would have changed the rules. Tez would have been in the Hall before his career was over.
“He was that good. He was that dominating.”
Terry Wooden was part of the same 1990 draft class that delivered Kennedy to the Seahawks – after they traded up to the third spot to get the then-rotund D-tackle from the University of Miami. Wooden, a do-it-all linebacker, offered a similar sentiment Friday night as he was leaving the function where Kennedy got his gold Hall of Fame jacket.
“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,” Wooden said. “America missed out on seeing a pretty dominant player. Tez would have made it earlier if more people had actually seen him play.
“If they had, it would have been a no-brainer.”
Sour grapes? No, hitting the sweet spot in the explanation of what took so long for Kennedy to get bust-ed in Canton. In fact, that was the theme of the presentation I made during the Hall of Fame selection committee meeting in 2009, the first year Kennedy was a finalist. Too few people saw all the things Kennedy was capable of doing on the field. He was more than a run-stuffer, as evidenced by his 58 career sacks. He was more than a pass-rusher, as evidenced by how frequently opponents double- and triple-teamed him in trying to get their running game going in a direction away from Kennedy. He was, in the vernacular of the sport, a load.
“The thing that made him so great he is that he had just super instincts,” said Tommy Brasher, who was Kennedy’s D-line coach from 1992-98. “I changed a lot of my rules for him. 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. 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.”
Then there was the yearly competition for one of the coveted spots for election to the Hall. The first three times Kennedy was a finalist, the collection of slam-dunk selections in their first year of eligibility included Bruce Smith and Rod Woodson (2009), Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith (2010) and Marshall Faulk and Deion Sanders (2011). Each class is limited to five of the modern-day finalists, with an additional one or two players nominated by the veterans committee. So the slam-dunk players limit the berths for the other finalists.
But when I “failed” to get Kennedy into the Hall in ’09, during the debate that follows each presentation speech, Peter King of Sports Illustrated and SI.com offered, “Anyone who doesn’t think Cortez Kennedy belongs in the Hall of Fame isn’t paying attention.”
While we can harrumph and be indignant in retrospect about how long it took Tez to get in, he just shrugged and laughed when asked about playing the waiting game.
“I’m so happy to get in the Hall of Fame now, because what do I have to do now? I’ve reached the pinnacle,” Kennedy said during the media-availability session Friday. “If it was easy, everybody would be in the Hall of Fame. But it’s not that easy. You’ve got to go through some pains and trials and tribulations to get there.
“But there’s one thing about it, I don’t have to worry about it anymore.”
After he finally was inducted during Saturday night’s national televised ceremony at Fawcett Stadium, while standing to the side of the stage following a prolonged photo session that kept getting interrupted by congratulatory hugs and handshakes, Tez finally exhaled.
“It’s great, but I’m glad it’s over with,” he said. “I’m in the Hall. It’s done. I’m a Hall of Famer for life.”