We Lost The Tez

Respect …

Seattle has been hit pretty hard over the last week.  First, we lost Chris Cornell, who was an absolute titan of my youth, as superfans of the 90’s Seattle music scene don’t get much bigger than me, and now we’ve lost Cortez Kennedy, who died of unknown causes at the age of 48.

I’ll withhold any sort of rant until we get more information, but it doesn’t look good that Tez was complaining of headaches in the days leading up to his death.  The more this happens, the worse it’s ultimately going to be for the game of football.  I mean, we can’t have our superstars dying before the age of 50!  Everyone always says they were gone too soon whenever someone dies, but it actually means something when you’re only 48 years old.

I’ve been having a hard time keeping it together as I read all the tributes and well-wishes to him and his family the last day or so.  I’ll generally always root for guys who play for my team, but it’s nice to know that someone so great at football was also such a great person in life.  There are so many stupid fucking dickheads in the world, I forget sometimes that there’s a lot of goodness and kindness in the world too.

Growing up, Steve Largent was my favorite football player of all-time, but Cortez Kennedy quickly became my #2.  I was looking through the 1990 NFL Draft, wondering whatever became of the guys drafted around Tez (who was picked third by the Seahawks).  Jeff George was picked first by Indy, and he ended up being an explosive bust.  Kind of like a poor man’s Jay Cutler.  But, you know, you can understand why they grabbed him #1 overall.  Then, the Jets picked running back Blair Thomas with the second overall pick, and I had to laugh.  Thomas was out of the NFL by the end of the 1995 season, and you could argue he was part bust (injury-related) and part bust (coaching-related).  I mean, who drafts a running back #2 overall, then puts him in a 4-running back rotation?  That’s insane to me.

So far, there have been three other Hall of Famers to come out of the 1990 draft:  Junior Seau at #5 to the Chargers (also lost too soon, due to football-related brain issues), Emmitt Smith at #17 to the Cowboys, and Shannon Sharpe WAAAAY down at the second-to-last pick of the seventh round to the Broncos.  It’s pretty crazy that you could make a very good argument that Tez was the greatest 3-Tech Defensive Tackle of all time, Seau was the greatest Middle Linebacker of all time, Emmitt Smith was the greatest Running Back of all time, and Sharpe was the greatest Tight End of all time, all coming out in the same draft.

What was good for the NFL was also good for the Seahawks in that 1990 NFL Draft.  On top of Tez, the Seahawks got Terry Wooden, a starting outside linebacker, in the second round; Robert Blackmon, a starting strong safety, also in the second round; and Chris Warren, a starting running back, in the fourth round.  On top of some of the holdover talent, it’s mind-blowing that the Seahawks would be a 2-win team only two years later, but I guess that’s what happens when you neglect the quarterback position for so long.

Tez was truly in his prime from 1991-1996, when he made the Pro Bowl each of those six years, and was First Team All Pro in three of those years (from 1992-1994).  He had his 1997 season cut short due to injury, but bounced back for two more Pro Bowl seasons in 1998 & 1999.  He was more of a rotational guy under Mike Holmgren, particularly in his final year in 2000, and he only got to enjoy one playoff appearance (in 1999, in a loss to Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins), but he was a Seahawk through and through.  For most of the 1990s, Tez was literally the only reason to ever watch a Seahawks game.  I take great pride – and I know he takes great pride – in the fact that he was a career Seahawk, even though he had multiple offers to play elsewhere as his career came to a close.

The best part of Tez’s game was that he wasn’t just a sacks guy.  He was a complete, all-around defensive tackle.  Yes, he got his share of sacks (14 in 1992, when he was Defensive Player of the Year), but I don’t remember EVER seeing an interior defensive lineman with the number of tackles that he’d get.  73 tackles in 1991, 92 (!) tackles in 1992, 77 tackes in 1993.  I mean, how do you even do that?  That’s on top of the fact that he was almost constantly double-teamed, because if you didn’t double-team him, he’d absolutely blow up every single play.  And, that’s on top of the fact that he rarely left the field.

A 3-down interior lineman with high sack totals AND high tackle numbers?  And you want to try to argue with me that he’s not one of the best 3-Tech DTs of all time?  Get the fuck off my planet!

I didn’t know the man, I was never lucky enough to meet him in person, but one of my favorite stories about him is the reason why Tez wore the number 99 in his DPOY season of 1992.  Earlier that year, his best friend (and fellow University of Miami alum) Jerome Brown died in a car crash.  Brown was drafted by the Eagles in 1987 and was also an interior defensive lineman.  He started off his career a bit slower than Tez, but in 1990 and 1991, he was First Team All Pro, and on the path towards the Hall of Fame.  Jerome Brown wore the number 99, so in honor of him, Tez wore that number for the 1992 season, when he absolutely tore apart the National Football League.  That’s the type of friend Tez was; that’s the type of person the world lost yesterday.

It wasn’t a given that the Tez would make the Hall of Fame, but it damn well should’ve been.  He had to wait a few years before he got his crack, and you could tell no one would appreciate it more than him.  I was beyond thrilled the day it was announced (the only way I could ever be happier is if Edgar makes it), because no one was more deserving of such accolades.  I’m just happy he was alive to experience it.

I’m beyond bummed out right now.  I encourage anyone reading this to go down a YouTube rabbit hole of Tez highlights.  You won’t be disappointed.

My favorite pic …

Cortez Kennedy: A Deserving Hall Of Famer

All I can say is:  it’s about damn time.

The Greatest There Ever Was ...

Right before the coin toss in yesterday’s boring-for-58-minutes Super Bowl, the announcer in the stadium introduced the 2012 class of NFL Hall of Famers.  I had no idea before this weekend that the NFL picks between 4-7 guys every year regardless.  I figured it was something akin to baseball, where they could have as few as 1 or 2.  Primed with that knowledge, I finally understood why this year was so important for Tez.  In 2011, he was confronted with massive names like Deion Sanders, Marshall Faulk, Shannon Sharpe, and Richard Dent.  These are all huge stars that NFL fans the world over know and admire!  And in 2013, you’ve got guys like Larry Allen, Jonathan Ogden, Michael Strahan, Steve McNair, Warren Sapp, John Lynch, and Morten Andersen all eligible for induction.  In following years, more guys like Walter Jones and Orlando Pace figure to be first-ballot guys.

In 2012, however, the best Tez had to contend with were guys like Curtis Martin, Chris Carter (who didn’t make it, which is ridiculous), and Kevin Greene (who also didn’t make it, in spite of being 3rd on the all-time sacks list).  I would argue that Cortez Kennedy is the best of the 2012 class by FAR, though I respect what Chris Doleman was able to do with the Vikings all those years.

Curtis Martin, on the other hand, shows just how low they’re placing that bar for running backs.  Might it get dropped down just a tad more for Shaun Alexander?

Anyway, getting back.  Right before the coin toss, they introduced the 2012 Hall of Fame class.  And, far and away, Curtis Martin got the most cheers (which I guess is understandable, since he played for New England and was a member of the Jets for so many years).  I was kind of put off by the tepid applause for Tez, but that just goes to show what happens when you play your entire career in Seattle.  You don’t get the respect you deserve, that’s for damn sure!

He played the right defensive tackle position and was certainly the greatest who ever played.  Other defensive tackles might have more sacks – which ultimately seem to be the indicator of success, which is foolish to say the least – but Cortez Kennedy was the best all-around defensive tackle ever.  He’s the player younger guys should look to for how to play the position.

Granted, Tez got his sacks – 58 in an 11-year career fighting through constant double and triple teams – but he was SO much more than that.  In an era where running the ball was king, Cortez Kennedy was a force to be reckoned with.  Other teams had to game-plan around what Tez brought to the table in the middle of the line.  They had to dedicate time and man-power towards trying to remove one single element of our defense.  And even when they tried, they STILL failed!

Our Seahawks defenses his first three seasons were all in the Top 10.  That is in spite of the fact that our offenses in his first three seasons were among the worst of all time.  He made the Pro Bowl in every year from 1991 through 1999.  He was a first-team All Pro from 1992 through 1994.  AND, he was the Defensive Player of the Year in 1992, when he had 14 sacks and 92 tackles (while wearing the jersey number 99 in honor of his good friend and mentor Jerome Brown, who died in a car accident prior to the season).

There have been seven guys who were a defensive tackle and won the Defensive Player of the Year (the award dates back to the 1971 season).  In 1999, we had Warren Sapp, who only managed 12.5 sacks and 27 tackles.  In 1997, we had Dana Stubblefield, who had 15 sacks and 48 tackles.  In 1989, we had Keith Millard, who had 18 sacks and an undocumented number of tackles.  Prior to that, Mean Joe Greene won the award twice in the early 70s, with Alan Page winning the very first one in 1971 (during a dark period in our country’s history when they didn’t keep track of sacks or tackles as stats).

Cortez won it with 14 sacks and 92 tackles.  92!  There are linebackers who don’t get that many tackles in a season!  It’s rare for ANY lineman to get more than 50!  And Cortez had 92 in the year 1992.  I don’t know if there’s anyone who is able to track this sort of thing, but I have to imagine that 92 tackles for a defensive tackle is the most ever for that position in any given season.

Kennedy averaged a little over 50 tackles per season during his career, though you could clearly see he was on a bit of a decline in the later years.  Nevertheless, he was easily the most dominant interior defensive lineman of his era, and he remains the greatest I’ve ever seen at his position.  There are lard-ass tackles who weigh 365 pounds and do little more than take up space.  There are speed-rushing tackles with the burst to get double-digit sacks on the reg.  But to be a guy like Kennedy – 6’3, 305 pounds – with the ability to do BOTH:  clog the middle of the field with his considerable size & strength AND the speed to split a double-team and harass the other team’s quarterback; that takes a very special kind of athlete.

One that very-much deserves the honor bestowed upon him this weekend.  Congratulations, Cortez Kennedy!  You are now immortal.