What has already been a very memorable year for Seahawks Legend Kenny Easley will add another special chapter Sunday evening. Easley, who in August was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame 30 years after his retirement, will have his number retired as part of a halftime ceremony during the Seahawks' Week 4 game against the Indianapolis Colts.
This latest honor was an expected one for Easley—the Seahawks' other three Hall of Fame players who spent their entire careers in Seattle, Steve Largent, Cortez Kennedy and Walter Jones, all have their numbers hanging from the CenturyLink Field rafters—but expected or not, it will still be a very meaningful day for Easley.
"I expected it to happen, but I'm very happy about that," Easley said. "Over the years, I've seen the number 45 out there a few times, though not that much. I'm glad that that's going to take place and I can be a part of that ceremony on October 1. I'm looking forward to it.
"It's going to be real nice. It has been a long time for me. It has been 30 years since I played, and for these types of things to be happening 30 years after the fact is unique. A lot of times when things sit this long, people tend to forget. The fact that 30 years after I played, I get into the Hall of Fame and then have my jersey retired, it's really special. I'm 58 years old now, and when you get a little age on yourself and your life, you tend to give a lot more respect and credence to things that happen to you later in life like this."
As Easley recounted a couple times leading up his Hall of Fame enshrinement, he already had a vision of this latest honor several months ago. On the night before Easley learned he was going into the Hall of Fame, he had a dream in which he was inside CenturyLink Field looking up at the rafters. Easley, who always wore No. 5 playing multiple sports before reaching the NFL, where number choices are limited by positions, realized in that dream that his number would be the fifth retired by the franchise after Largent, Jones, Kennedy and 12 for the fans.
"I woke up in a sweat, because something was telling me that I was going to be the fifth jersey up in the rafters in CenturyLink Field," Easley said earlier this summer. "It was 4:30 in the morning, and the dream was so vivid, it was like I was already in the Hall of Fame, it was just a formality for a knock at the door to come the next day."
Going into the Hall of Fame, and now having his number retired, represent very significant moments in Easley's life, helping lift him up after being "down in the dumps" following triple bypass surgery last year.
"He has absolutely changed," Kendrick Easley, Kenny's son, said in August. "The energy has picked up, he's a lot more positive. Since this Hall of Fame stuff started, his perspective has really changed and he's in a really good place now."
Kenny Easley and his family were featured guests at the Pro Football Hall of Fame parade on Saturday, August 5 in downtown Canton, Ohio.
And even if a dream helped portend a Hall of Fame enshrinement, and even if that honor made this weekend's jersey retirement an inevitability, these lofty individual honors are hardly ones that Easley assumed were in his future for the first 15 years of his retirement.
After Easley retired prematurely in 1987 due to kidney disease, he spent 15 years not just avoiding his former team, but the entire sport. Easley was angry about how his career ended—a lawsuit involving his kidney disease was eventually settled in the 1990s—so he spent a decade and a half, as he put it, "wallowing in my own anger."
By 2002, however, the Seahawks were an entirely different organization than the one Easley had played for, so when then vice president of communications Gary Wright reached out, Easley, with a bit of convincing from family and friends, reconciled with his former team and went into the Ring of Honor.
Prior to that year, Easley couldn't envision going to a football game, let alone standing on the field during a Seahawks game to see his number retired. But after reconnecting with not just a team but the entire sport, Easley has seen his stellar career recognized in so many ways, ranging from Seattle's Ring of Honor to the Hall of Fame to, on Sunday, seeing his No. 45 hanging from the rafters.
"When I left the game, I was in a bad place mentally because of how my career ended," Easley said. "It took 15 years for me to even—I didn't watch a football game, not even college, I just felt like I had to get it completely out of my system. Then I got the call from Gary Wright in 2002 that the Seahawks wanted to do this. Fifteen years was long enough. My kids were getting to an age where they could realize what their father had done, and I thought that it was the right time. Talking to various people who were close to me, they all agreed that, 'You can't sit there and hold anger against an organization that in 2002 had nothing to do with what happened to you in 1987.' So it was the right time to do it, and I'm glad I did it. The Seahawks organization under Paul Allen and John Schneider and Peter McLoughlin has been absolutely fantastic to Kenny Easley, so I have nothing but good things to say about them."
Behind-the-scenes photos from Seahawks Legend Kenny Easley's Pro Football Hall of Fame party during enshrinement weekend in Canton, Ohio.
Yet even if Easley for a long time wasn't sure honors like the Hall of Fame or having his jersey retired were in his future, those who played with him and against him have long known he was one of the game's all-time greats.
"I can tell you many moments of watching Kenny Easley, because that's what I used to spend my time doing, watching Kenny Easley," Hall of Fame defensive back Ronnie Lott said in a video congratulating Easley on his enshrinement. "The reason why? There was no one that got me excited about playing the game of football than when I watched him… There's no one more deserving."
Easley's career wasn't as long as he would have hoped, but he made the most out of the time he had in the league. In seven seasons, Easley earned Pro-Bowl honors five times and was named Associated Press first-team All-Pro three times. A member of the 1980s all-decade team, Easley was also the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 1984 when he had a league-high 10 interception while helping the Seahawks to a 12-win season.
"I've always said Kenny was a Hall of Famer," said Terry Taylor, a cornerback who joined the Seahawks as a first-round pick in 1984. "Even if he would have never made it, I knew who I played with. He was the best player on our team, I'll tell you that right now. He was well deserving of this, it should have happened 25 years ago. I'm so happy for him."
Easley is sure to receive a very warm welcome from fans when he is honored during Sunday's game, but he also has one request of the crowd, which he outlined during his Hall of Fame speech in August: "You were a part of something back in the 70s and the 80s called the wave. Well, I'm going to ask you a favor. I'll be in Seattle on October 1 for the Seahawks - Colts game and I'd like to see the wave performed just one more time for all the guys that played in the 70s and the 80s. Can you do that for a brother?"
Seahawks Legend Kenny Easley delivers his enshrinement speech as he joins the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2017 on Saturday, August 5 in Canton, Ohio.