A happy enforcer birthday to Kenny Easley

Thursday is Kenny Easley’s 56th birthday, and the Ring of Honor strong safety got to celebrate early on Saturday night when he raised the 12 Flag before the Seahawks’ playoff victory over the Panthers.

Thursday is Kenny Easley's 56th birthday, but the Seahawks already threw him a birthday bash worthy of his Ring of Honor status.

It happened on Saturday night, before and during the 31-17 victory over the Carolina Panthers in the divisional playoff victory at CenturyLink Field that sent the Seahawks to Sunday's NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers.

Happy 56th Birthday to Seahawks Ring of Honor safety Kenny Easley.

Easley raised the 12 Flag above the south end zone just before kickoff, to a rousing ovation from the 68,524 12s in the stadium where his name is included in the Ring of Honor on a facade of the East grandstand.

Then, the All-Pro tandem of strong safety Kam Chancellor and free safety Earl Thomas turned in efforts that were turn-back-the-calendar performances.

Chancellor iced the victory by returning a fourth-quarter interception 90 yards for a touchdown – and the longest play in franchise playoff history. He also had 10 tackles, including several tempo-setting and momentum-shifting hits that were reminiscent of those Easley used to dish out. Then there was Chancellor bounding over the line in an attempt to block a field-goal attempt that conjured memories of the way Easley used to hop over the four-foot fence around the practice fields after training camp practices at Eastern Washington University.

Thomas forced a fumble on the first play of the game, broke up two passes and finished with a game-high 11 tackles.

Upstairs, in their respective broadcast booths, were former safeties Eugene Robinson and John Lynch. And also on hand was former safety Paul Moyer. Robinson, the analyst for radio broadcasts of Panthers games, was voted the free safety on the Seahawks' 35th Anniversary team, with Easley the strong safety. Moyer was Easley's teammate on those Seahawks' teams in the mid-1980s – and one of Easley's best friends on the team.

Lynch, the analyst for the FOX telecast of the game, is a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2015. He never played for the Seahawks, but he was a nine-time Pro Bowl performer for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Denver Broncos.

Easley belongs in the Hall of Fame, but the reason given for why he isn't is that he didn't play long enough because a kidney issue that ended his career after the 1987 season. But from 1981, when he was the fourth pick overall in the NFL Draft, through that 1987 season, no one played the strong safety position better while redefining how the position was played – and how opposing offenses reacted to his intimidating presence.

Easley had a career-high 107 tackles his first season, a 14-game season, and was named AFC Rookie of the Year. He was voted NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1984, when he had 10 interceptions and the defense led the league with 63 takeaways. He also volunteered to return punts in 1984 and averaged 12.1 yards.

In seven seasons, Easley was voted to five Pro Bowls and named All-Pro three times. He was selected to the NFL Team of the Decade for the 1980s and inducted into the Ring of Honor in 2002.

And in the mid-80s, Easley was immortalized in a poster that came with a nickname that not only stuck but had been earned – The Enforcer.

So on his special day, we send special birthday wishes to a special player.

Photos of ex-Seahawk Kenny Easley raising the 12 Man Flag for the 12s at the Divisional Playoff Game with the Carolina Panthers.

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