Posted by Neil Paine on January 28, 2011
Outside of Seattle, the Seahawks are a blip on the radar of most NFL fans. The Seahawks are one of the youngest franchises in the league, one of the most geographically remote, one of the least successful, and have been one of the most devoid of star power. They've had only five superstars since Seattle entered the league in 1976. Steve Largent is the only Seahawk in the Hall of Fame and was one of the greatest wide receivers in league history. Safety Kenny Easley had his Hall of Fame-like career derailed due to injuries and kidney disease. Walter Jones and Shaun Alexander - both of whom may be Canton bound - helped form one of the most potent offenses in the NFL in the middle of this decade, and earned Seattle an NFC Championship. Bridging the gap between Largent and Easley of the '80s and Jones and Alexander of the '00s, was Cortez Kennedy.If you weren't paying attention, it would have been easy to forget about the Seahawks while Kennedy was there, with the Seattle sports scene dominated by the likes of Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Randy Johnson, Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton. The most memorable football moments of the '90s from the Pacific Northwest are the split National Championship the Huskies won in 1991, Drew Bledsoe becoming the first pick in the 1994 draft, and Ryan Leaf taking Wazzou to its first Rose Bowl in 57 years.
Despite playing in Seattle for eleven seasons, Kennedy's teams played in just one playoff game during his tenure. But to forget the easily-forgettable '90s Seahawks would be to throw the 305-lb baby out with the bathwater. After starring at "The U" during its prominence -- Kennedy's Hurricanes went 45-3 during his time there -- Kennedy was the #3 pick in the 1990 NFL draft. He lived up to expectations quickly: his 1992 season is easily one of the most uniquely incredible seasons any defensive player has ever had.
Kennedy led all defensive tackles in sacks, en route to winning the Defensive Player of the Year Award for the bottom-dwelling, 2-14 Seahawks. Seattle's offense in 1992, by any possible measure, was one of the worst in the history of the NFL. Seattle ranked last in yards, last in points, last in first downs, last in passing touchdowns, last in net yards per attempt, and second to last in rushing touchdowns. The Seahawks, trailing for most of every game, saw the fewest pass attempts in the league that season. Still, Kennedy's fourteen sacks in 1992 are the sixth most by a defensive tackle since the sack became an official statistic.
To see just how unique Kennedy's accomplishment was, check out the teams that every AP Defensive Player of the Year played on during his award-winning season:
year player tm position win% record 2008 James Harrison PIT LB 0.750 12-4-0 2007 Bob Sanders IND DB 0.813 13-3-0 2006 Jason Taylor MIA DE 0.375 6-10-0 2005 Brian Urlacher CHI LB 0.688 11-5-0 2004 Ed Reed BAL DB 0.563 9-7-0 2003 Ray Lewis BAL LB 0.625 10-6-0 2002 Derrick Brooks TAM LB 0.750 12-4-0 2001 Michael Strahan NYG DE 0.438 7-9-0 2000 Ray Lewis BAL LB 0.750 12-4-0 1999 Warren Sapp TAM DT 0.688 11-5-0 1998 Reggie White GNB DE 0.688 11-5-0 1997 Dana Stubblefield SFO DT 0.813 13-3-0 1996 Bruce Smith BUF DE 0.625 10-6-0 1995 Bryce Paup BUF LB 0.625 10-6-0 1994 Deion Sanders SFO DB 0.813 13-3-0 1993 Rod Woodson PIT DB 0.563 9-7-0 1992 Cortez Kennedy SEA DT 0.125 2-14-0 1991 Pat Swilling NOR LB 0.688 11-5-0 1990 Bruce Smith BUF DE 0.813 13-3-0 1989 Keith Millard MIN DT 0.625 10-6-0 1988 Mike Singletary CHI LB 0.750 12-4-0 1987 Reggie White PHI DE 0.467 7-8-0 1986 Lawrence Taylor NYG LB 0.875 14-2-0 1985 Mike Singletary CHI LB 0.938 15-1-0 1984 Kenny Easley SEA DB 0.750 12-4-0 1983 Doug Betters MIA DE 0.750 12-4-0 1982 Lawrence Taylor NYG LB 0.444 4-5-0 1981 Lawrence Taylor NYG LB 0.563 9-7-0 1980 Lester Hayes OAK DB 0.688 11-5-0 1979 Lee Roy Selmon TAM DE 0.625 10-6-0 1978 Randy Gradishar DEN LB 0.625 10-6-0 1977 Harvey Martin DAL DE 0.857 12-2-0 1976 Jack Lambert PIT LB 0.714 10-4-0 1975 Mel Blount PIT DB 0.857 12-2-0 1974 Joe Greene PIT DT 0.750 10-3-1 1973 Dick Anderson MIA DB 0.857 12-2-0 1972 Joe Greene PIT DT 0.786 11-3-0 1971 Alan Page MIN DT 0.786 11-3-0
Thirty-three of the first thirty-eight AP DPOY winners came from teams with winning records; in addition to Kennedy, the other names on the list are White, Taylor, Strahan and Taylor. Jason Taylor earned the DPOY award in 2007 on the second worst team of the 38 winners, and his Dolphins won three times as many games as Kennedy's Seahawks. Just by being named a first-team All-Pro that season, Kennedy joined an elite list. Only three other players have ever been selected by the Associated Press as a first-team All-Pro while playing for a 14- or 15-loss team; Tony Gonzalez (2008), Junior Seau (2000) and John Hannah (1981).
But don't think that Kennedy was a one-season wonder; he made eight Pro Bowls in his eleven year career. If you remove the defensive end/defensive tackle tweeners, there are only ten true defensive tackles in the Hall of Fame. Listed below are those ten guys, along with the next ten best interior linemen according to AV:
name AV HOF? 1AP 2AP Pro Bowl Merlin Olsen 139 yes 5 4 14 Bob Lilly 128 yes 7 1 11 Leo Nomellini 116 yes 6 1 10 Joe Greene 127 yes 5 2 10 Ernie Stautner 112 yes 1 4 9 Randy White 121 yes 7 1 9 Alan Page 157 yes 6 2 9 Buck Buchanan 101 yes 4 2 8 Cortez Kennedy 99 no 3 1 8 Warren Sapp 117 -- 4 2 7 John Randle 107 no 6 0 7 Curley Culp 92 no 1 2 6 La'Roi Glover 91 -- 1 3 6 Art Donovan 88 yes 4 2 5 Ray Childress 93 no 1 4 5 Henry Jordan 108 yes 5 1 4 Alex Karras 112 no 3 4 4 Bryant Young 93 no 1 3 4 Steve McMichael 100 no 2 2 2 Rosey Grier 89 no 1 2 2
With eight Pro Bowls, this post should read more like a coronation than an invitation for discussion. We all know that Pro Bowls selections are above reproach, but Kennedy's eight appearances put him in rare company. Ignoring the selections just announced last week, 108 players have been named to eight Pro Bowls in their career, with 87 of them having been eligible for HOF induction prior to 2010. Only fourteen of those players are not in the Hall.
PBs Player Pos 1AP LastYr 8 Shannon Sharpe TE 4 2003 8 Cris Carter WR 2 2002 8 Steve Wisniewski G 2 2001 8 Cortez Kennedy DT 3 2000 8 Steve Atwater DB 2 1999 8 Chris Doleman DE 2 1999 8 Lemar Parrish DB 1 1982 8 George Kunz T 1 1980 9 Chris Hanburger LB 4 1978 8 Winston Hill T 0 1977 9 Walt Sweeney G 2 1975 9 Maxie Baughan LB 2 1974 9 Jim Tyrer T 6 1974 8 Les Richter LB 1 1962
In addition to the eight Pro Bowls, Kennedy has three AP first-team All-Pro selections. Sharpe (4) will get in the HOF very soon; Tyrer (6) earned his awards in the AFL, and he will be more remembered for what he did off the field than what he did on it; Hanburger is widely regarded as one of the biggest Hall of Fame snubs. Kennedy wouldn't be the most egregious HOF snub, but his three first-team All-Pros, DPOY award and 8 Pro Bowls are more than enough to make him a solid selection.
When I wrote my 90% of the All-Decade defense of the '00s, I mentioned that Rodney Harrison's resume fell short as he made just one Pro Bowl and was named a first-team All-Pro only one time. And I said while you could argue that those metrics are flawed, consider what direction in which they are usually flawed: players on winning teams, players in high-profile markets, and those who play in a lot of prime-time games tend (at least, anecdotally) to get these honors more often than they should. Well, none of those things apply to Kennedy. If you make the Pro Bowl and earn first-team All-Pro playing on mediocre teams in Seattle, odds are that you deserved such honors. In some ways, he's similar to another star defender who mastered his craft while playing for bad teams out West in the '90s.
Some more quick HOF trivia before concluding. Only three players who began their career in the past 50 seasons made the Hall of Fame despite never playing on a team that appeared in a playoff game. Famously, the late '60s Bears had two of them: Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers. The third was Cardinals great Larry Wilson. Kennedy's Seahawks made one playoff game during his time there, losing 20-17 to the Dolphins. Seven additional Canton greats never played on teams that won a playoff game: Lem Barney, Charlie Sanders, O.J. Simpson and Joe DeLamielleure, Dan Dierdorf, Deacon Jones, Roger Wehrli and Ken Houston (his teams went 0-5 in playoff games). Kennedy should join that list one day.
Initially, Kennedy's HOF campaign didn't have much traction. His first year of eligibility, Kennedy was not named one of the 25 semi-finalists for the Class of 2006. In a mind-bogglingly odd omission, Kennedy wasn't even one of the 111 preliminary nominees for the Class of '07. The voters got their heads on straight, momentarily at least, in 2008: Kennedy was again a semi-finalist, but did not end up as a finalist. Last year Kennedy finally made it to the last round, as he was one of the 17 finalists for induction. Kennedy probably won't make it in this ultra-competitive class, which means he'll only have a couple of more chances until flavors of the month like Warren Sapp and La'Roi Glover become eligible for the classes of 2013 and 2014, respectively.