February 12, 2012

Kenny Easley Should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Hundreds of men have played for the Seattle Seahawks since the franchise's birth in 1976, but there are only four career Hawks who are worthy of enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Two have already gotten in (Largent, Kennedy), and one will have a bust in Canton once he becomes eligible (Jones). The fourth member of this quartet may have to wait a while, but Kenny Easley is richly deserving of the immortality that comes along with a place in the Hall of Fame.

The biggest problem? Outside of the Twelve Army, Easley has already, sadly, been forgotten. When I wore his throwback jersey to a game at Indianapolis back in 2009, many drunken Fat Humps asked me "Who's Easley?" For those of you who might be too young to remember Easley, or if you just need a quick refresher on his exploits, check this out:

I was lucky enough to witness his career, and there's never been a more intimidating figure in team history (nope, not even Tez). Easley was a sure tackler, a ferocious hitter, and an elite ball-hawk. If you want the model for the upper limit of Earl Thomas or Kam Chancellor's careers, it's Kenny Easley. You have to be a historic, next-level bad-ass to pose for a poster like this and NOT look ridiculous (yes, I had this on my wall growing up in the Tri-Cities):

Easley was the first defensive superstar for a Seattle team that was known (if they were known at all) for offensive fireworks and special teams trickery. The 1st-round pick was named AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1981, and then AFC Defensive Player of the Year in 1983. Easley's career peaked in 1984, when he led a dominant Seattle defense with 10 interceptions and was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year. In all, Easley was named to the Pro Bowl five times and was honored as a 1st-team All-Pro four times. Most importantly, he was named to the NFL All-Decade Team for the 1980s. According to Pro Football Reference, Easley had a career similar to those of Hall of Famers Deion Sanders, Mike Haynes and Paul Krause, and future inductee Troy Polamalu.

Unfortunately, before the 1988 season Easley and the Seahawks had a spectacularly messy divorce. The team traded him to the Phoenix Cardinals for Kelly Stouffer (ugh), but the trade was voided when Easley failed a physical, which revealed he had a severely damaged kidney. Easley then sued the team, arguing that high doses of ibuprofen were responsible for his kidney damage. A financial settlement was eventually reached, but reconciliation between the Seahawks and Easley didn't come until after Paul Allen bought the team in 1997. In 2002 he was added to the Seahawks Ring of Honor, and in 2005 he raised the 12th Man Flag:

So why isn't this man in the Hall of Fame? He played in South Alaska for the Seahawks, and his 7-year career was relatively brief. There is little we can do about the first problem except hope a Seattle Super Bowl run makes Easley retroactively more appealing to Hall of Fame voters (Like what happened with Saints linebacker Rickey Jackson in 2010). Easley's brief career isn't (or at least it SHOULDN'T be) a barrier to his induction- Hall of Famers like Earl Campbell, Gayle Sayers, Dwight Stephenson, and Doak Walker also had relatively brief runs in the NFL. Easley's best chance to get in probably lies with increased success/national relevance for the Seahawks, followed by induction via the Seniors Committee (which considers players from the pre-1987 era). Given Easley's continuing health problems, hopefully this honor comes while he is still around to enjoy it.

What do you think, sirs? Do you have memories of Easley to share?

February 4, 2012

Tez's Triumph, Our Triumph

Finally, Cortez Kennedy is a Hall of Famer. His enshrinement is richly deserved- Kennedy was one of the greatest interior defensive linemen in NFL history, and one of the best overall defensive players of the 1990s. As I've said in this space before:

Sometimes I like to try to talk myself into the idea that Kenny Easley was the 3rd greatest Seahawk ever after Jones and Largent, but let's be frank: It's Tez. For an entire decade, he was a DOMINANT force in the middle for Seattle, stifling opposing rushing attacks and creating absolute chaos for enemy QBs. His litany of accomplishments is amazing- Here's the big ones:

-1992 NFL Defensive Player of the Year
This really had to been seen to be believed. Budding superstar Cortez Kennedy, drawing additional motivation from the untimely death of friend/University of Miami teammate Jerome Brown (Kennedy switched to #99 in honor of Brown for the 1992 season), dominated the middle and notched 14 sacks AS AN INTERIOR LINEMAN.

Kennedy did all this on one of the worst teams in NFL history- a 2-14 team that included an offense that CONSTANTLY left the defense to fend for itself (they scored an NFL record-low 140 points over the entire season). Despite playing for a terrible team with NO national exposure, Tez was so overwhelming in 1992 that he was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

-8-time Pro Bowler (2nd in Seahawks history, behind only Walter Jones' 9)
-3-time All-Pro (2nd in Seahawks history, behind only Walter Jones' 4)
-58 QB sacks (3rd in franchise history, 1st among Seahawks DTs)

A while back, Pro Football Reference made the case for Tez to be in the Hall of Fame... Clare Farnsworth did likewise. In a few years time, The Seahawks should have three players in Canton: Steve Largent, Walter Jones, and Cortez Kennedy.

This is a monumental achievement for Cortez Kennedy, and a joyous day for all Seahawks fans- But for those of us who survived the 1990s rooting for this team, this moment has added significance.

If you're a Twelve above a certain age, that means that you endured a sub-mediocre decade of football- One where you pulled for a team run by a buffoon who longed to steal your team away and spirit it off to Southern California. Ken Behring and his minions made DOZENS of terrible personnel moves during The Dark 90s, alienated fans constantly, and when given the chance tried to pull up stakes for Los Angeles.

If the Seahawks were your first love during this era, you weren't one of the cool kids- They were decked out in Sonics or Mariners gear. If you went to Seahawks games, you'd find the Kingdome half-empty or filled with the fans of our enemies. Home games were blacked out more often than not, and we were about as irrelevant as an NFL franchise could possibly be.

Through these times of tribulation, one man showed us what consistent excellence looked like game after game, year after year. One man righteously kicked ass and made the enemy fear SOMEONE wearing Seattle colors. This man didn't complain, he didn't demand trades, and he even refused to show up for Behring's comical L.A. minicamp in 1996, arguing that he signed a contract to play for the SEATTLE Seahawks. He wasn't a twisted malcontent like Charles Haley, either. He was a Superstar who was also, by all accounts, a model teammate.

Today, all of us who sat through 6-10 nightmare seasons, who lost sleep wondering if we'd lose our team, who were belittled and taunted for our allegiance to the Blue & Green... Today we can all proudly say that despite all that, we got to watch HALL OF FAMER Cortez Kennedy. One of the greatest players of all time, whose bust will be displayed in Canton as long as professional football exists, was OURS. The Forgotten Years, and everyone who survived them, are dignified now.

Thank you, Mr. Kennedy. I will be at your enshrinement this August, and if I get the chance I will thank you personally.

What do you think, sirs? Any memories of Tez to share?

February 3, 2012

"I can feel them pulling away as I'm resigned to stay the same."

One of the things I've been reflecting upon as another Super Bowl approaches is how close we got to winning it all six years ago- I'm not here to whinge about XL yet again, but it's gotten me thinking about some of the big reasons the Seahawks are important to me. Unfortunately some of those reasons are really depressing, so consider this your downer warning...

Twice in the last week, someone out here in Columbus has noticed my Seahawks gear and said "Seahawks? Are you from Seattle?" As I've said before, my initial response is typically "yeah," but if THEY then say they are from Seattle, I unspool that whole "I grew up in the Tri-Cities, then went to college at Western" thing. That got me thinking about how much I miss the northwest, and how much I miss my friends and family out there, and I had an unpleasant revelation: I'm probably never going to move back there.

For a long time I've thought "hey, maybe someday, I'll end up back there." But the brutal truth is this- It's just not going to happen. My life is out here in Ohio (a place I've honestly grown to love)... job, kids, everything. It's how it should be, and how it NEEDS to be. I've KNOWN this for a long time, but denial is an extremely powerful thing. That made me think about the close friendships that have frayed over the time I've been in Ohio- friendships that I wish were closer, friendships that are barely maintained through facebook and the occasional text message. Then there's my relationship with my family, who I only see 2-3 times a year because I'm broke and cross-country air travel just keeps getting pricier. This all makes me feel like a shitty friend, son, brother, etc. It's one of those things that isn't really anyone's FAULT- It's just very difficult to maintain relationships over a distance of 2000+ miles.

This is where we circle back around to the Seahawks thing- Rooting for the Seahawks is something that makes me feel connected to everything and everyone back home (even to those friends who are Seahawks-dissing Sounders snobs... I kid because I love, y'all). I don't just mean my Western friends or my family- I also mean the community of Twelves that has sprung up on twitter (and among followers of this blog). I tweet a lot, and one of the big reasons I do so is that it makes me feel a little bit less lonely, and a little bit less isolated (What a shock! A blogger is socially maladjusted and awkward!).

So it has become a perverse reverse feedback loop: As I drift further away from my Northwest roots, my commitment to the Seahawks becomes more and more intense, and more and more indispensable to me... This makes it extra painful to finally give up my season tickets. My parents have been fronting the funds for my season tickets for years, but with my little brother going off to college this fall it's very hard to keep justifying the expense. It's totally logical to take this step, and I'm actually looking forward to sitting in other areas of Seahawks Stadium (like perhaps the Hawks Nest)- but it still makes me feel like I'm somehow less of a fan.

In the same vein, if Cortez Kennedy is inducted into the Hall of Fame Saturday, it will have great personal meaning for me- Kennedy was the last truly great Seahawk I got to see play before I moved away to Ohio, and as I've said before his ascension to the Hall would validate all that time I spent glued to mediocre Seahawks teams in the '90s.

In a couple of years, I'll bring my son to his first game at Seahawks Stadium. A few years after that, I'll take my daughter to HER first game. Hopefully BEFORE then, I'll be out there for a victory parade through Seattle. Until then (and, duh, after) I'll keep coming out for games whenever I can, and let that make me feel like the tether to my roots hasn't completely frayed to the breaking point.

You all should know... My friends, my family, my fellow Twelves- I miss all of you, I love all of you, and Go Seahawks!