The Great Cortez Kennedy Conquers Pro Football’s Hall of Fame

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February 10, 2012 by David Gillaspie

And other feats of amazement.

(written for oregonsportsnews.com)

Number 96 with his boys. Courtesy of Seattle PI

Which ingredients make an outstanding football player? Besides size, speed, and strength, what else is there?

Add intelligence.

Players with the physical gifts to play in the NFL need football I.Q. to stick around. If your goals are faster, higher, stronger, you belong in the Olympics where their motto is Citius, Altius, Fortius. Those people might be smart enough to read Latin, but they can’t take a football hit.

The NFL has their own motto: Not For Long. Find an Olympic translator to read it in Latin.

One way of measuring football I.Q. is the Wonderlic Test. A high score doesn’t mean you’ll be a star, just don’t tell Peyton Manning. There’s no question for defensive lineman about beating a triple team with a leg whip on the side.

Another revealing statistic on football smarts is the number of games a player takes the field in a career. Maybe it’s luck, maybe it’s something else, but a man with over 150 games under his belt knows something.

Showing up to play year after year won’t earn you a PhD, but it might land you in the HOF. That’s where Seattle Seahawk Cortez Kennedy recently landed.

Cortez Kennedy, you ask? A defensive tackle? For who? It’s been twenty-two years since Kennedy joined the Hawks, and twelve since he last played. Since he’s not a ‘skill position’ player, his name faded faster than Emmitt Smith.

Smith and Kennedy both came out of college in the 1990 draft, the big man at #3, the running back at #17. Emmitt went to Dallas. Three Super Bowls, retiring as the all-time yards gained back, and one Dancing With The Stars title, Emmitt continued his media career.

Kennedy returned to college on his own dime to finish his degree while Emmitt analyzed games on television and showed how to get gray hair out of your beard with Just For Men. Both made it to the Hall of Fame, the only two from ’90 so far.

One way for a defensive tackle to stand out is playing on a team with a catchy name for guys playing on the crunching side of the ball. Think of the Ram’s Fearsome Foursome, Dallas’ Doomsday Defense, Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain, and Minnesota’s Purple People Eaters.

Cortez Kennedy fits in as a defensive tackle on any of those teams. He shares the same characteristics with their great players.

  • In 1962, the Rams got number three draft pick Merlin Olsen who never missed a game in fifteen years.
  • The Cowboys took Bob Lilly with the 13th pick in 1961. He missed one game in fourteen years.
  • The Steelers chose ‘Mean’ Joe Greene with the 4th pick in 1969. He barely missed a game.
  • Alan Page went to the Vikings with the 15th pick in 1967 and played every game until 1981.

They all made the Hall of Fame.

Cortez took a harder path.

He started his career playing for Chuck Knox and finished with Mike Holmgren. In between he played for Tom Flores and Dennis Erickson. Seattle didn’t have the sideline stability of Tom Landry in Dallas, Chuck Knoll in Pittsburgh, or Bud Grant in Minnesota. Instead of one coach driving the same bus all the way to the Super Bowl, Kennedy had new rigs and detours.

A bright spot for Kennedy was the D Line teammates whose careers overlapped his time in Seattle. Like all modern professional teams, players come and go with money involved. The Seahawks were smart to keep their future Hall of Famer.

Four defensive linemen are named on the Seahawk’s 35th Anniversary Team, Cortez Kennedy, Joe Nash, Jacob Green, and Michael Sinclair. They all played between 1980 and 2001, a fearsome foursome in their own right. Green played in 180 games, Nash in 218.

The true test of all gifted athletes is their life after the stadium lights dim for the last time. Instead of a wild life featuring out of control episodes followed by police reports, arrests, and reality TV shows, Cortez Kennedy opted for the good life in a nice Orlando, Florida neighborhood.

What is his secret to success? “Be nice to people,” he says, “and they’ll be nice to you.”

Nice sounds right, but you have to wonder about Emmitt Smith’s version of the nice Cortez Kennedy. Emmitt, was meeting Cortez during a game like a sweet journey to Camelot?

History books tell about the Massachusetts’ Kennedy’s and their legendary touch football games on the side yard. Who wouldn’t want to see the true king of Kennedy football on that field.

Thank you, Mr. Kennedy. You’ve made all fans of defensive linemen proud.

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