John Clayton: Late Seahawks great Cortez Kennedy was a trendsetter who always left you with a smile
As an NFL beat reporter, it’s fascinating how you develop relationships with players. This comes to mind with the stunning news that Cortez Kennedy passed away Tuesday at the age of 48.
I can’t remember exactly when Kennedy and I developed a dialogue in which we would call each other Big Dog. I would go to Kennedy’s locker room and say, “Hey, Big Dog.” He would chime back, “How’s it going, Big Dog?” Each time Tez fired back a “Big Dog,” he would accompany it with a giggle.
Every interaction with Cortez Kennedy left you with a smile.
Thanks to the Tacoma News Tribune, I was able to get more insight on Kennedy than most players I’ve covered in newspapers, television or radio. In 1990, the paper allowed me to go to the scouting combine in Indianapolis for the first time. The Seahawks had the third pick in the upcoming draft, and the class was loaded: Jeff George, Blair Thomas, Tez, Junior Seau, Richmond Webb and Andre Ware just to name a few. I sensed from the beginning that head coach Chuck Knox and the Seahawks were hoping to get Kennedy.
He was going to be a trendsetter for Seattle’s defense. As it turned out, Kennedy changed the way defenses were going to be built in the 1990s. Thanks to the defensive scheme he had played in at Miami under Jimmy Johnson, Kennedy was the perfect player to set the agenda of the Seahawks. At that time, more NFL teams ran a 3-4 defense, in part because of the success Bill Parcells had with Lawrence Taylor as an outside linebacker with the Giants. Knox, defensive coordinator Tom Catlin and defensive line coach George Dyer wanted to incorporate the Hurricanes’ scheme in Seattle. Tez was the key.
My best memories of Kennedy playing were in 1992. The Seahawks were terrible that season. They had one of the worst offenses in the history of the league, but they had pride and talent on defense. Kennedy was so dominant that he was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year despite playing for a 2-14 team that scored only 140 points. Kennedy had 14 sacks that year and forced four fumbles.
During that season, Peter King of Sports Illustrated and I started up a notes network for a good number of NFL reporters. We would spend an hour every Thursday on a conference call, sharing notes on the teams we covered. I spent my time telling them about Kennedy and his achievements. His season was remarkable.
Tez drew double- and triple-teams all the time, and it got so bad that the Seahawks decided in 1994 to draft defensive lineman Sam Adams in the first round. When Adams first met Kennedy, Tez joked that the Seahawks brought him here to take some pressure off of him.
“I sure hope they were right,” Kennedy told Adams.
They were, but even so Adams was in awe of Kennedy’s abilities. He was a big guy who could move and felt he could never be blocked. Kennedy and Adams formed one of the best defensive tackle tandems of all-time.
It took about five years after retiring for Kennedy to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but what an honor it was to see him in the yellow jacket. Voters acknowledged his talent. He went to eight Pro Bowls in 10 years, but it took a little bit of a sales job to get the votes because he was on so many non-playoff teams.
Big Dog, I’m going to miss you.
Want more John Clayton? Listen on-demand to his weekday and Saturday shows as well as his “Cold Hard Facts” and “Clayton’s Morning Drive” segments on 710 ESPN Seattle. Also, check out his all-new “Schooled” podcast and look for his columns twice a week on 710Sports.com.