A year ago today, the Seahawks lost one of the most talented and beloved players in franchise history. On the anniversary of his passing, the Seahawks remember the life and career of Cortez Kennedy, a Hall of Fame defensive tackle who spent his entire NFL career in Seattle.
Kennedy, who arrived in Seattle as a first-round pick in 1990, was one of the best players of his era, making the Pro Bowl eight times in 11 seasons and earning All-Pro honors five times. His dominance transcended wins and losses to the point that he earned NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors in 1992 despite playing for a team that finished with a 2-14 record. But it was more than just Kennedy's physical talents that made him a sports icon in the Pacific Northwest; it was his big personality, his sense of humor and his love for life that stood out as much as any of his impressive on-field exploits.
"He was like a kid all the time," former Seahawks coach Dennis Erickson said last year. "He smiled, he had fun all the time. He just enjoyed life and enjoyed people."
Dave Wyman spent only three of his nine NFL seasons playing with Kennedy, but said last year, "If you had asked me who was my best teammate, I would say Tez, and 75 percent of that was stuff off the field. He was always joyful, he was always happy. He was like the kid playing football on the playground, and that just rubs off on you. And I'm telling you, I never heard an ill word from that guy. Ever. I never heard a criticism, I never heard him get mad about something someone wrote or said. He's a great example for every football player. As a football player, you're supposed to be like a holy terror in between the lines, then off the field, you're supposed to be a nice, humble, gracious guy, and you strive to do that, but you don't always get it done. He always got it done."
And Kennedy got it done on the field as well as any defensive tackle of his era, which is why he was named to the NFL's All-Decade team for the 1990s. Kennedy became a member of the Seahawks Ring of Honor in 2006, then in 2012 he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, making him one of four players to be enshrined in Canton after spending their entire careers in Seattle along with Steve Largent, Walter Jones and Kenny Easley.
"Cortez was a beast, Cortez was disruptive," former Seahawks safety Eugene Robinson said last year. "I would yell out, 'That trap's coming, that trap's coming. Tez, watch the trap.' And he would just take that tackle and destroy him, or that pulling guard, he would destroy him. He was ubiquitous, he was everywhere.
"That 1992 season, we went 2-14 that year, and from a 2-14 team, he was the defensive player of the year. You've got to be pretty dang special to do that. To be that prolific, to be that guy whose volume of work speaks so loudly that the entire nation of football takes notice and says you're the best player? What? That put him on the maps. Fourteen sacks at defensive tackle? Defensive ends get 14, 15 sacks, defensive tackles get 8 sacks, 9 sacks, that's a great season. You get double digits, you're something special."
Kennedy's legacy lives on, including through an initiative started by Jones, a former teammate of Kennedy's and a fellow Hall of Famer. Inspired by the random phone calls he would receive from Kennedy following their playing careers, Jones last year launched 96 CHECK, a campaign named after Kennedy's jersey number that encourages all current and former NFL players, coaches, staff and fans to reach out and check in with an individual they have not talked to in a while.
"He would just check in on me anytime," Jones said last year when launching 96 CHECK. "A random call, it could be early in the morning, it could be late at night, and it'd just be a random call. He didn't want anything, he was just checking up on you."
A look back at some of the best photos of Seahawks Legend Cortez Kennedy.