Kenny Easley did it. He completed his journey from estranged to endangered to enshrined into football immortality.
The Seahawks legend, their former thumping safety, the 1984 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and a three-time All-Pro, was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday as a senior candidate.
The strong safety eliminated opponents with smashing hits from 1981-87 for Seattle, until a kidney ailment led to acrimony, an abrupt, premature end to his career at age 29 and a transplant. Now, six months after he had triple bypass surgery, Easley becomes the fourth player who spent his entire career with the Seahawks to be voted into the Hall of Fame. He joins Steve Largent, Cortez Kennedy and Walter Jones.
“I will never get this feeling out of my heart,” Easley said Saturday night in Houston.
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“I’m enormously grateful for this opportunity. To be reconsidered after 20 years, I’m glad it happened now, because I feel that if it had happened in 1997, I wouldn’t be as grateful as I am right now at age 58 for this to happen. So that means a great deal that it happened to me now.”
Hall of Fame president Dave Baker went to Easley’s hotel room Saturday in Houston, site of Super Bowl 51, on the afternoon before the title game between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons. Baker informed Easley, who turned 58 last month, that a nine-member panel within the Hall of Fame’s general selection committee voted him in as the Class of 2017’s lone senior finalist.
Easley needed at least eight of the nine committee members to vote for him. Each nominee needs at least 80 percent of the committee’s vote in a given year to gain enshrinement into football’s most prestigious club.
Easley will be inducted on August 5 at the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. His fellow members of the Class of 2017 are kicker Morten Andersen; running back Terrell Davis; Dallas Cowboys owner, president and general manager Jerry Jones; defensive end Jason Taylor; running back LaDainian Tomlinson; and quarterback Kurt Warner.
Last August, the Hall of Fame’s Senior Committee, nine members of the 49-person overall selection committee, met in Canton and nominated Easley as its senior nominee, a player whose career ended at least 25 years ago.
The Senior Committee chose Easley even though he was never a finalist in the 20 years he was eligible to be as modern player, from 1993-2012. A consultant to the committee was Floyd Little, the former Denver Broncos running back.
Little was enshrined in 2010, 35 years after he retired and also after not being a finalist as a modern player during his 20-year window after playing.
Easley learned he was nominated by the Senior Committee three weeks after he had that triple-bypass surgery. That was after he had difficulty breathing last summer at his home in Virginia.
So, yes, this has been quite a six-month ride for the Seahawks’ famed No. 45, with shoulder pads as large as his famous hits on opposing ballcarriers.
Until a few winters ago, Easley hadn’t watched a football game in 15 years. He was, in his word, “estranged” from the game in general — and the Seahawks in particular.
He had sued the team for causing his kidney disease, which doctors eventually attributed to the overuse of ibuprofen. The suit was ultimately settled, and Easley received a kidney transplant.
Easley’s rift with the Seahawks ended in 2002 when he joined the team’s “Ring of Honor.” He, Largent, Jim Zorn, Dave Brown, broadcaster Pete Gross, Curt Warner, Jacob Green, Dave Krieg, coach Chuck Knox, Kennedy and Jones are the only Seahawks so honored.
Now Easyley has joined a club even more exclusive. The most prestigious one in his sport.
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle
Class of 2017
MORTEN ANDERSEN, kicker, 1982-2004: Played for the New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons, New York Giants, Kansas City Chiefs and 2004 Minnesota Vikings. … Seven Pro Bowl selections; All-Pro five times. … Set NFL records for career points (2,544), most field goals (565), games played (382).
TERRELL DAVIS, running back, 1995-2001: Played for the Denver Broncos. … In second year, gained 1,538 yards rushing, named Offensive Player of the Year ... Earned MVP honors in Super Bowl XXXII after rushing 157 yards, 3 TDs in victory over Packers ... Three-time All-Pro selection. Selected to three Pro Bowls and named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1990s.
KENNY EASLEY, safety, 1981-1987: Played for the Seattle Seahawks. … NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1981 and NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1984. … All-Pro four consecutive seasons, 1982-85 … Named to five Pro Bowls (1983-86, 1988) … Member of NFL’s All-Decade Team of 1980s. … Career stats: 32 interceptions for 538 yards and three TDs, also had eight sacks.
JERRY JONES, contributor: Owner, president and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys from 1989 until the present. … Leadership in sports marketing and promotion has influenced landscape of NFL and America’s sports culture … Only owner in league history to win three Super Bowls in first seven years of ownership.
JASON TAYLOR, defensive end, 1997-2010: Played for the Miami Dolphins, Washington Redskins and New York Jets. … NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2006. … Voted to six Pro Bowls and named first-team All-Pro three times. … Career statistics: 139.5 sacks, eight interceptions, 29 opponents’ fumbles recovered.
LADAINIAN TOMLINSON, running back, 2001-2011: Played for the San Diego Chargers and New York Jets. … Named NFL’s 2006 Most Valuable Player. … All-Pro four times and voted to five Pro Bowls. … Rushed for 13,684 career yards on 3,174 carries and scored 145 rushing touchdowns. … Named to NFL’s All-Decade Team of 2000s.
KURT WARNER, quarterback, 1998-2009: Played for the St. Louis Rams, New York Giants and Arizona Cardinals. … Went undrafted and played in the Arena Football League. … Went on to become a two-time NFL MVP (1999 and 2001) and named Super Bowl 34 MVP after leading Rams to title. … A four-time Pro Bowl choice.
Source: Pro Football Hall of Fame