Although unrelentingly genial and accommodating in interviews, Cortez Kennedy relied heavily on a few default responses that carried him through an 11-year NFL career.
If the Seahawks lost badly, he would comment: “We just have to go out and play Seahawks football and we’ll be OK.”
If the Seahawks won a game, he would comment: “We went out and played Seahawks football today.”
He delivered these insights with a smile – and in a rumbling Arkansas accent that sounded like a character in Disney’s Country Bear Jamboree.
Put away the microphones and the cameras, though, and he would laugh and tell stories and show the kind of warmth that made him an all-time favorite of his teammates.
But a week from Saturday, Kennedy will face his largest audience when he is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, joining Steve Largent as the only longtime Seahawks in the Hall.
Kennedy has been practicing his acceptance speech, and the counsel he’s received sounds perfectly suited to Kennedy: Just be yourself.
“I can talk a little bit,” Kennedy said Thursday in a conference call. “I never did talk (a lot) over the years. … One of the things that (advisers) thought (is) that I’m better when I just talk from the heart, so that’s what I’m going to try to do Saturday night, just speak from my heart.”
An eight-time Pro Bowl selection at defensive tackle, Kennedy is already in the Seahawks Ring of Honor. In his 11 seasons, though, he played on only two teams the finished with winning records – in his rookie year and his final year.
But he stressed Thursday that he never wanted to leave Seattle, because he so appreciated the way he was treated by the franchise and the fans. “I like my comfort zone,” he said. “I had a great time and had some great teammates. … We fought hard out there.”
A byproduct of the enshrinement, for Kennedy, is the way the occasion is luring his old friends to share the moment with him in Canton. “That’s what makes it so special,” he said. “People ask me if I’m nervous. Right now, I’m getting kind of nervous, but I feel so good right now. I’ve got over 350 people who are going to show up, and that tells me that I have a lot of good friends and a lot of people who care for me, and it’s exciting I get a chance to see them again.”
Since the announcement of the selection in early February, the demands have poured in to Kennedy, who lives in the Orlando, Fla., area with his daughter, Courtney.
People who may have never seen a Seahawks game are asking him to appear at speaking engagements and autograph sessions.
“But I’m not that type of person,” he said. “I’ll do a couple, but I like to stay out of that limelight. I’ve always been that way. So one of the biggest things is I’ve had to turn down people when they ask me to do stuff … but I want to keep my life simple.”
There’s no avoiding the limelight in Canton, and “I will not skip the people who helped me on this journey,” he said. “I have so many people I want to thank.”
The honor of presenting Kennedy for induction has gone to Dixie Fraley Keller, wife of Kennedy’s late agent and close friend Robert Fraley, who died in a 1999 plane crash.
“If Robert had lived, he would have (presented Kennedy for induction),” Kennedy said, adding that Fraley taught him what it meant to be a pro as an athlete and as a person, “to be sure I treated people the way I want to be treated.”
From his first day in the NFL, Kennedy has called himself blessed and was always quick to show appreciation for those who helped him on his way. He was a humble superstar who truly understood the importance of his family, his teammates and his friends.
He will spend a lot of time on that big stage in Canton offering thanks to those people.
It will be genuine. From the firstname.lastname@example.org 253-597-8440 @DaveBoling