Cortez Kennedy already has had so many honors come his way.
The eight-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle for the Seahawks has been induced into multiple Halls of Fame (Arkansas, University of Miami and, in August, Pro Football Hall of Fame). He’s in the Ring of Honor for the Seahawks and the Hurricanes. In 2007, SI.com named him the best athlete – in all sports, not just football – to ever wear No. 96.
He’s even got a street named after him in his hometown of Wilson, Ark.
So what else is there for one man – even a man who played and lives as large as Kennedy – to accomplish? We’re all about to share it with Kennedy today, when his No. 96 will be retired by the Seahawks during a halftime ceremony of the team’s game against the New England Patriots and added to those of Hall of Fame wide receiver Steve Largent (80), future Hall of Fame left tackle Walter Jones (71) and the team’s fans (12) at CenturyLink Field.
“This is the icing on the icing on the cake,” Kennedy said, the delight in his voice palpable even during a cell-phone conversation from his home near Orlando, Fla. “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 cake, of course, was Kennedy’s multilayered career that warranted all these accolades.
The most-decorated defensive player in franchise history, Kennedy was a first-round draft choice in 1990; selected NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1992, when he collected 93 tackles and 14 sacks for a team that finished 2-14; voted to eight Pro Bowls; named to the NFL Team of the Decade for 1990s; added to the Seahawks’ Ring of Honor in 2006; and became the 272nd member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August, as the next-to-last to be inducted in this year’s six-man class.
“Getting into the (Pro Football) Hall of Fame, that was No. 1,” Kennedy said when asked to rank his cup-runneth-over accomplishments. “No. 2 was to get drafted by the Seahawks. It was shocking. And then to get your number retired, I’ll put that at No. 3.”
Or perhaps 1a, 1b and 1c would be a better way to look at it, because the other two would not have happened without the other one – no matter how you rank them.
“I accomplished everything,” Kennedy said, not bragging but simply stating the obvious. “To get drafted high (No. 3 overall). Then to get in the Hall of Fame. Then to have your jersey retired. It’s hard to believe that nobody will ever wear that jersey again.”
Just as Kennedy was an unbelievable player, and remains an unbelievable person.
“He was an incredible talent and a really good guy,” said former Seahawks center Robbie Tobeck, who played with and against Kennedy.
To play with Kennedy was to love the experience. To play against Kennedy was to respect the experience.
“We all knew that whatever good happened to our defense, it started up front,” said Eugene Robinson, a Pro Bowl free safety during his stint with the Seahawks from 1985-95. “We didn’t win many games during that stretch (1990-95), but we had a killer defense. Our linebackers? You’d have to Google them to find out who they were. The secondary? Same thing.
“But everyone knew our line, and everyone knew it started with Tez.”
Like Tobeck, Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon played against Kennedy and then with him.
“Cortez was a good teammate, and then he was a great player on the field,” Moon said. “It’s interesting that I got to see him from both sides – as an opponent and as a teammate.
“Cortez was a gentle giant off the field. Everybody loves him. 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.”
Who never got a big head, despite everything that he has accomplished. Dickie Kennemore can attest to that. He’s the mayor of Osceola, near Wilson, and a friend of Kennedy’s.
“Some people that have become successful have gotten the attitude that they’re too good to come back and that has not been the case with Cortez,” Kennemore told the Associated Press. “When he came back he just melted right in with the local populous and it meant a lot to us.”
Just as today means a lot to Kennedy, because he gets to share his latest honor with those who watched him achieve so much – and roared their approval with every tackle, sack and disruptive play.
“My jersey up there with the 12th Man, the Seahawks’ fans, that’s what it’s all about to me,” he said. “Because all the fans who supported the Seahawks and supported me throughout my career, it’s such a great honor to have my jersey retired up there with them because that’s what it’s all about – the 12th Man, the Seahawks’ fans.
“That’s why it means a lot to me to come back up there, after everything I accomplished, to say one last farewell to the Seahawks’ fans. I’ll always be up there with them, and with Walt and Steve.”