Cortez Kennedy was watching, but also waiting.
The most-decorated defensive player in Seahawks history figured that someone would call him Saturday with the news regarding his possible election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The call never came, but the news did – via TV, as his selection to the Class of 2012 was announced on the NFL Network.
“I thought I’d get a call,” Kennedy said moments after taking his rightful place among the best to ever play in the National Football League. “I was just watching TV, like everyone else, and then they called my name.
“They called my name. Can you believe it? It’s unbelievable. Unbelievable. Can you believe it?”
Believe it, Tez. You are a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Kennedy was a finalist for the fourth consecutive season, and also advanced from that field of 15 to the group of 10 last year. But Saturday, when the 44-person selection committee gathered in Indianapolis, Kennedy took the final two steps.
First, he emerged from the group of 10 to the final five, as did Pittsburgh Steelers center Dermontti Dawson; defensive end/linebacker Chris Doleman, who played for the Minnesota Vikings, Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers; New York Jets running back Curtis Martin; and offensive tackle Willie Roaf, who played for the New Orleans Saints and Kansas City Chiefs. But even that does not insure a berth in the Hall, because the final five also must get 80 percent approval on the final ballot.
Each did, and will be joined in the six-man class by Jack Butler, a senior committee nominee who played cornerback for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1951-59.
Kennedy opted to remain at home in Orlando, Fla., rather than travel to Indianapolis.
“I was just too nervous,” he admitted.
But not as anxious as his 16-year-old daughter, Courtney.
“She was going crazy,” Kennedy said. “She finally had to get out of here, so she went to the basketball game (at her high school) with some friends.”
Kennedy will catch a flight to Indy on Sunday morning so he can be presented as part of the Class of 2012 during the Super Bowl game at Lucas Oil Stadium between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots.
After the way things had gone the past three years, Kennedy wasn’t sure how things would play out on this Super Bowl Eve.
“I was thinking I had a chance, but I figured it was 50-50,” he said. “I figured I had a good shot, but I just didn’t know.”
Always the team player, Kennedy shared this latest honor – and perhaps greatest honor – with the team that traded up to select him with the third pick overall in 1990 NFL Draft.
“I’m so happy for the Seahawks organization,” he said. “The coaches I had. The other guys I played with. The fans. Everyone I came into contact with during my career there.
“This is a great day, and I’m happy to share it with everyone.”
One of the things Kennedy had to overcome to join the Pro Football Hall of Fame was being a great player on some average-to-mediocre teams. In 1992, when he was voted NFL Defensive Player of the Year, the Seahawks finished 2-14. But Kennedy produced 14 sacks and 93 tackles – an unblockable and disruptive force, even when double-teamed.
During his 11-season career in Seattle, the Seahawks had winning records twice (9-7 in 1990 and 1999) and he did not appear in a playoff game until that 1999 season, his next-to-last.
But the way he played his position – redefining the way the position was played – was impossible to overlook. By the time Kennedy called it a career he had been voted to eight Pro Bowls, named All-Pro five times and selected to the NFL Team of the Decade for the 1990s. He was inducted into the Seahawks’ Ring of Honor in 2006, and now is in a position to have his No. 96 retired and hung in the rafters at CenturyLink Field with those of Steve Largent and Walter Jones.
Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon played two seasons with Kennedy (1997-98) and he was a co-host for the NFL Network’s Hall of Fame announcement show.
“I played with Cortez Kennedy for a couple of years in Seattle, and the way he dominated the game at the nose tackle spot … having 14 sacks in a season from that position, also has three interceptions in his career, believe it or not,” Moon said. “The guy is just an all-around great football player. So he’s a guy I think is very deserving.”
Kennedy will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer, where he will join Largent – the Seahawks’ all-time leading receiver who was inducted in 1995.
Like Moon, others with ties to the Seahawks are members of the Hall of Fame – John Randle, a sack-producing defensive lineman who played his final three seasons with the Seahawks in 2001-03 and was added to the Hall in 2010; Jerry Rice, the NFL’s all-time leading receiver who played the 2004 season in Seattle and also became a member of the Hall in 2010; Mike McCormack, an offensive lineman for the Browns who also was a Seahawks executive from 1982-88 and joined the Hall in 1984; Franco Harris, the former Steelers running back who played in eight games for the Seahawks in 1984 and entered the Hall in 1990; and Carl Elller, a defensive lineman for the Vikings who was with the Seahawks in 1979 and entered the Hall in 2004.
But Kennedy and Largent were with the Seahawks for their entire careers – Kennedy from 1990-2000; Largent for 1976-89 – and became cornerstone players in the franchise’s history. Now, they have something else in common.
“I can’t tell you what this means to me,” Kennedy said. “It has been a long wait, and a long process. But definitely worth it.”