CANTON, Ohio – Cortez Kennedy was still smiling almost 30 minutes after his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
And why not? The Seahawks’ eight-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle wanted to speak from the heart and put the focus on others – rather than himself – when he got up to address a national television audience and 10,310 people at Fawcett Stadium on Saturday night.
He not only did that, the man most call simply Tez left them laughing.
“I was thrilled with it,” Kennedy said after his induction speech and the unveiling of his bronze bust that will now join those of the other five members of the Class of 2012 in the Hall – Dermontti Dawson, Willie Roaf, Chris Doleman, Curtis Martin and Jack Butler.
“I went from my notes and I just ran with it. That’s why I wasn’t nervous about it. When you talk about my life it shouldn’t be that hard to do.”
Kennedy chose Dixie Fraley Keller, the widow of his longtime agent and friend Robert Fraley, to present him. Fraley died in a plane accident in 1999 along with golfer Payne Stewart.
Steve Largent, the only other member of the Hall of Fame who played his entire career with the Seahawks, said Kennedy’s speech captured not only the moment but the man.
“Cortez did a great job. It was just him,” the franchise’s all-time leading receiver said. “If you know Cortez, it was totally his personality. He’s very kind of ad-lib and funny, yet meaningful. So I thought he did a great job.”
Like Roaf, the offensive lineman from New Orleans, Kennedy excelled on a bad team. It was his sustained excellence — not Seattle’s success — that got him into the Hall.
Kennedy grew into the game’s top defensive tackle during his 11 seasons with the Seahawks. Even though Seattle went 2-14 in 1992 and Kennedy got double-teamed most of the time, he was so good that he was chosen the league’s best defensive player.
“That’s bad when you go to the game and the defensive coordinator says, ‘Guys, we’re not going to win the game. Let’s don’t embarrass ourselves.’ You know we’re in for a long year then,” Kennedy said.
As for thanking those who helped him during his career – and through his life – Kennedy started with the obvious: his parents, Ruby and Joe Harris. He finished with the love of his life, 17-year-old daughter Courtney.
In between, well, he mentioned and/or thanked 54 people. Everyone from all the coaches he played for and many of the players he was teammates with, even his childhood doctor.
And there was a story to go with just about everyone.
Like his dad. “I can remember not doing my chores right, cutting the yard,” Kennedy said. “I didn’t cut the yard right, and you made me cut the grass at 5 a.m., in the dark. You said, ‘Do it right the first time and you won’t have to do it again.’ I got the point. Don’t take the shortcut.”
Like his mom. “I’ll never forget when you made me quit football my sophomore year for having bad grades,” Kennedy said. “My high school football team went to the state championship. My mom sent me a postcard saying, ‘Wish you were here.’ ”
Like his daughter. “Courtney, like we’ve been saying the last couple weeks – 250 more days, you got to get out and go to college. Get out of the house,” Kennedy cracked.
He smiled and look at his daughter before adding, “You know you can always come home to me, daddy’s little girl.”
In the end, Kennedy said just about all that needed to be said – and did it with a sense of humor that he usually displays in smaller groups and less-pressurized situations.
“This day, right now, it’s always about those who came a long way, those who provided support, and those who have cheered, it’s all about the 12th Man,” Kennedy said of Seahawks fans. “It’s all about those before, and who will come after.
“It’s all about my beautiful daughter, Courtney. It’s all about the players and friends I laughed with over the years. It is about all my teammates I cried with over the years, both in victory and defeat. It’s not about winning or losing. It’s so much bigger than that. It’s about relationships and about sharing and working hard together. It’s about not taking the shortcut.”