Before being named a Senior Finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Seahawks Legend Kenny Easley had given up on the thought of attaining the NFL's highest individual honor.
Easley, a five-time Pro Bowler and four-time first-team All-Pro selection during his time in Seattle (1981-87) whose elite athleticism and hard-hitting style helped redefine the way the safety position was played, was never considered for Canton, Ohio enshrinement in the 20 years he was eligible as a modern-day player from 1993-2012. That's part of the reason why Easley said he was "flabbergasted" this past August when he received a phone call from Pro Football Hall of Fame officials informing him of his selection as a Senior Finalist for the Class of 2017.
"There's no way how to act, really," Easley, 58, recalled of last summer's exchange on a conference call with Seattle-area reporters early Thursday, two days before the Pro Football Hall of Fame will announce its 2017 class in Houston, Texas on the eve of Super Bowl LI. "But it's still been 20 years out there, so I didn't get too excited about it just because, like I said, I had given up on the prospect of it happening."
The announcement came at a trying time for Easley, who had just undergone triple-bypass heart surgery to combat breathing complications.
"I was really in a funk," Easley said. "I just could not believe that that had happened to me. All of my success in sports can be directly attributed to my heart: pump blood when I need it, when I needed a little bit more it would pump more, so most of my life my heart had been trained to do what I needed it to do when I needed it to do it. It was just unbelievable to me when the doctor told me I need to have the surgery done."
"I was stunned," Easley later added. "Not my heart. Maybe somebody else's heart, but not this heart."
The surgery forced Easley to miss his own charity golf tournament that summer, but he would go on to label the operation a "minor setback for a major comeback!" in a tweet that came just a week before the Hall's Senior Finalist news, news Easley said "changed my entire disposition about what I had just gone through."
"My wife had been driving me nuts about when I was in the hospital getting up and walking around the hospital, and then when I got home she wanted me to walk because that's what the doctor had instructed," Easley recalled of his post-surgery rehab process. "I wouldn't do it. I was in a funk.
"When [Hall of Fame committee member] Frank Cooney made those pronouncements that I was a candidate in 2017, I got up and walked for the first time after having my surgery. I have been walking ever since. I walk every morning now."
A Senior nominee, in Easley's case, is a player whose career ended at least 25 years ago. When the Hall's 48-person Selection Committee meets at the site of the Super Bowl this weekend, Easley still must receive the same 80-percent voting support required of all finalists. Eighteen individuals will be considered: one Senior (Easley), two contributors (Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue), and 15 Modern-Era finalists, including center Kevin Mawae, whose career started in 1994 with the Seahawks. Pro Football Hall of Fame bylaws call for a class no smaller than four or larger than eight, with the Senior Finalist being voted on for election independent of the other finalists.
For Easley, although he admitted to giving up on his Hall of Fame induction, there was a time when he allowed himself to entertain the thought. One specific moment came on October 14, 2002, when Easley, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1984 and member of the League's 1980s All-Decade Team with 32 career picks to his name, was inducted into the Seahawks' Ring of Honor in front of a sellout crowd at then Seahawks Stadium. Easley said it was the first football game he watched at any level since discovering the kidney damage that ended his NFL career 15 years earlier.
"That was the first time I even thought about being a Hall of Fame football player, and that's the God honest truth," said Easley, a Virginia native. "I had never even thought about going to the Hall of Fame. I played football because I loved to play, and football loved me back. It wasn't until 2002, as I was inducted into the Ring of Honor, coming back to Virginia one of my golfing buddies said, 'Congratulations, happy for you, you deserve to be in the Seahawks Ring of Honor, but you also deserve to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.'
"I'm telling you, I had never thought about being in the Pro Football Hall of Fame until that event in Seattle."
Easley's golfing buddy then pointed out one specific statistic that got Easley to "really start thinking about the Hall of Fame." The stat: of the 11 first-team defensive members on the NFL's 1980s All-Decade Team, Easley is the only one not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
NFL 1980s All-Decades Team, First-Team Defense
|PLAYER||**POSITION**||**TEAM(S)**||**PRO FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME CLASS**|
|Reggie White||DE||Philadelphia Eagles (1985-92); Green Bay Packers (1993-98); Carolina Panthers (2000)||2006|
|Howie Long||DE||Oakland Raiders (1981-93)||2000|
|Randy White||DT||Dallas Cowboys (1975-88)||1994|
|Dan Hampton||DT||Chicago Bears (1979-90)||2002|
|Mike Singletary||LB||Chicago Bears (1981-92)||1998|
|Lawrence Taylor||LB||New York Giants (1981-93)||1999|
|Ted Hendricks||LB||Baltimore Colts (1969-73); Green Bay Packers (1974); Oakland Raiders (1975-83)||1990|
|Mike Haynes||CB||New England Patriots (1976-82); Los Angeles Raiders (1983-89)||1997|
|Mel Blount||CB||Pittsburgh Steelers (1970-83)||1989|
|Ronnie Lott||S||San Francisco 49ers (1981-90); Los Angeles Raiders (1991-92); New York Jets (1993-94);||2000|
|Kenny Easley||S||Seattle Seahawks (1981-87)||N/A|
One of those 11 players, safety Ronnie Lott, came into the NFL at the same time as Easley. The 1981 NFL Draft saw Easley go to the Seahawks at No. 4 overall out of UCLA, while Lott was selected No. 8 overall out of USC by the San Francisco 49ers. Both players enjoyed stellar careers at the pro level, with Lott's landing him a spot in the Hall of Fame Class of 2000. Following his induction, Lott has made a point to stump for Easley's inclusion to this day.
"Kenny could do what Jack Tatum could do, but he also could do what Mike Haynes could do," Lott once told ESPN's Mike Sando. "He was not only a great hitter and great intimidator on the field, but he was a great athlete. Kenny, Lawrence Taylor and those guys changed the game of football on the defensive side because they were not just big hitters. Now, all of sudden, you were seeing guys who were big hitters, but also as athletic as anyone of offense."
"In my pursuit at trying to be the best, I always felt like I was shooting up to his level because he was the standard," Lott said last year. "Kenny's skills transcended the game. There had been only a few great safeties, like Jack Tatum who could hit and cover at an elite level. He was as good as there ever was and I mean that right to this day."
On Thursday, Easley went out of his way to show appreciation for all of Lott's unwavering Hall of Fame endorsements through the years.
"Ronnie Lott has been talking about Kenny Easley going into the Hall of Fame since the day I retired," Easley said. "He kept the drum beat going, and the remarkable thing about that is he didn't have to. He was in the Hall of Fame, had a brilliant career, and he didn't have to say anything about Kenny Easley. Every time somebody would ask him or he had an opportunity to say it, he would say that Kenny Easley needed to be in the Hall of Fame.
"Ronnie Lott is one of the most remarkable human beings that I've ever associated with, because I don't know, if the tables were flipped, if I could do the same thing for him," Easley added. "In college, I was competing against Ronnie Lott, now Ronnie would tell you that he was competing against me. He wanted to be like Kenny Easley and play the way Kenny Easley wanted to play. But I'm over at UCLA and I'm looking like this guy and I want to make sure I can play better than that guy. That was my impetus."
As it stands right now, the Seahawks claim just three players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame that played their entire careers in Seattle: wide receiver Steve Largent, who became the team's first player elected in 1995; defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy, who was elected in 2012; and offensive tackle Walter Jones, whose election came in 2014 the day before the Seahawks won Super Bowl XLVIII. Ahead of this weekend's announcement, Easley hasn't allowed himself to think about what it would be like to join those three lifetime Seahawks as owners of the NFL's iconic gold jacket.
"If it happens, great," he said. "If it doesn't happen, then I won't be terribly disappointed because like I said earlier, I had given up on the prospects of this happening."
Instead, Easley said he's focused on trying to figure out how he'll act if he gets elected on Saturday, when he'll be asked to anxiously stay put for a two-hour window in his Houston hotel and await the word of Hall of Fame president David Baker.
"I got a letter from the Hall of Fame a week ago, they said that they need me to be in my room between 1 and 3 o'clock," Easley said. "If you're elected, then Dave Baker is going to come to your room and tell you the good news. I'm trying to work it out in my mind as to if David Baker does not come to my room between 1-3, how I'm going to deal with that.
"I don't want to get too far out there and it doesn't happen, but I'll tell you what, if I get selected on Saturday, then you talk to me again and I'll tell you how I feel about it, being with Largent and Cortez Kennedy and Walter Jones. I'll be happy to tell you then how it feels to be amongst those guys as Hall of Famers for the Seahawks."
Photos of ex-Seahawk Kenny Easley raising the 12 Man Flag for the 12s at the Divisional Playoff Game with the Carolina Panthers.