In Seattle sports, there may have never been a more endearing character than Cortez Kennedy, although opposing quarterbacks may beg to differ. When he walked into a room, smiles were instant.
As he often did, Cortez Kennedy said it best, in his own self-deprecating, yet honest way, when he was drafted in by the Seahawks with the third pick in the 1990 NFL draft.
“I may be the fattest player in the draft,” he said after his selection, “but I’m a helluva player.”
On both counts, right he was. If there ever was a scouting acronym for Tez, it was BBGR — bad body, great results. The only thing more perpetual with Kennedy besides his smile was his battle with weight.
During the speech after his 2012 induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Kennedy recalled the efforts of his University of Miami teammate Randy Shannon, later the Hurricanes’ head coach, to keep him away from burgers and fries. Shannon slept on the floor of Kennedy’s apartment, positioned to help curb his friend’s caloric rampages.
A big man who who was remarkably agile, Kennedy glided out of his bedroom for a 3 a.m. raid on the refrigerator when Shannon sprang up to cut off the rush.
“Man,” said an anguished Kennedy, “do you ever sleep?”
No one in a football uniform ever slept on Kennedy either, lest that offensive lineman was fond of being mocked in the film room the following week. Kennedy’s fast feet and faster hands made him him nearly unblockable in his heyday of the early 1990s, when he was the star of a franchise at its nadir under the maladroit stewardship of owner Ken Behring.
Tez was the rose upon the slag heap.
Under four coaches (Chuck Knox, Tom Flores, Dennis Erickson and Mike Holmgren), Kennedy played 11 Seattle seasons and was in one playoff game (a 1999 loss to Miami). If that was a source of aggravation, he never said so publicly. In his Canton speech, he thanked his coaches and even Behring, which brought the ex-owner’s NFL total of salutes to one.
It was remarkable to be in a room when Kennedy entered. Everyone instantly smiled, none more quickly than the man himself.
In the Seahawks’ 41-year history, there has never been a more endearing character than Cortez Kennedy, the small-town Louisiana kid who rose to greatness that was otherwise undetectable in his manner and deeds.
Which is why the ache is so deep at the team’s Renton headquarters and among all those he touched before his stunning death Wednesday in Orlando home at 48.
The team’s statement:
Cortez Kennedy has been a pillar of the Seahawks franchise since joining the team as a rookie in 1990. Tez was the heart and soul of the Seahawks through the 1990s and endeared himself to 12s all across the Pacific Northwest as a player who played with a selfless and relentless approach to the game.
Tez was an NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Pro Football Hall of Famer, and Seahawks Ambassador, but more than his on-field accomplishments, he was a loyal son, father, teammate and friend to many, possessing a larger-than-life personality and an infectious laugh.
We extend our warmest thoughts and prayers to his parents, Ruby and Joe Harris, daughter Courtney, and entire family on the unfortunate loss of a life-long Seahawk. We are proud to have been represented by such a special person.
Kennedy had a guileless charm that made him approachable and popular. Which compounds the sadness throughout the NFL.
Shocked at Cortez Kennedy passing..1 of the most talented players I ever recruited or coached…a fun loving person a sad day..
— Jimmy Johnson (@JimmyJohnson) May 23, 2017
This is one of my saddest days in my life to hear this news about Cortez Kennedy. He was my mentor and close friend and today is a struggle
— Vince Wilfork (@wilfork75) May 23, 2017
Love this guy just a good person to me and mentor my heart hurts pic.twitter.com/ecKj2UjtUK
— Michael Bennett (@mosesbread72) May 23, 2017
Kennedy’s combination of quickness and strength was a game-changer for opposing offenses. If he lined up inside, a double-team was mandatory. If he lined up as a rush tackle, a back or tight end had to be deployed to help the tackle.
He was so good at it that in 1992 he was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year playing on a 2-14 team. That is like being named Miss America wearing a suit of armor, visor down. Gotta be really good.
By 1996, Kennedy was strong enough to stand up an owner. When Behring announced he was moving the the team to southern California after the Rams and Raiders left, Kennedy said he wouldn’t play because the contract he signed was with the Seattle Seahawks.
Behring’s son, David, shot back in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
“Cortez has a tendency to be overweight, particularly in the off-season,” Behring said. “He doesn’t have the work ethic that many of the other players have. He lacks, and fails to display, the team leadership that a player of his caliber and at that stage of his career should have.”
Behring first called Kennedy “fat, lazy and lacking leadership” before moderating his grumbling.
The NFL, aided by litigation from King County, reeled the Seahawks backed to Kirkland, where Kennedy said, “It’s good we’re coming back to Seattle. Let’s get with it. We signed to play in Seattle; this is where we belong. Let’s stay here.
“I’ve got to do what my heart says, and my heart says to be in Seattle.”
Behring later apologized: “My statements were an emotional response to a reporter’s question regarding Cortez’s . . . action and its effect on the team. Cortez has been part of this organization since 1990 and will continue to have an important role in this team’s future success.”
Soon, the Behrings were gone once Paul Allen purchased the club. But Kennedy had worked his way deeper into Seattle sporting soul with defiance beyond his football deeds. Yet Kennedy, heading to Seattle in 2006 for induction to the team’s Ring of Honor, stopped in the Bay Area to pay his respects to the Behrings.
The big man had a bigger heart. That’s what makes Seattle’s sporting heart so heavy now.