In the early 2000s, Kenny Easley reconnected to the Seahawks after 15 years of acrimony and estrangement. That eventually re-set his post-football path all the way into enshrinement next month in the Hall of Fame.
Two more great franchise moments, thanks to Paul Allen.
“I got the call from Gary Wright (now-retired Seahawks vice president) saying that Paul Allen had indicated to him that they would not put another player in Ring of Honor before they put Kenny Easley in there, and if he, Gary Wright, would make the call for me,” Easley said on the telephone Tuesday, three weeks before Seattle’s legendary, thumping safety and 1984 NFL defensive player of the year becomes the 306th man inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Wright was calling, as Easley put it Tuesday, “to basically test the waters” for Allen about Easley’s willingness to reconnect with the Seahawks. Allen, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft Corp., had agreed to purchase the team from Ken Behring in 1996. That was nine years after Easley played his final pro game for the Seahawks.
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Seattle was the only team Easley played for in his seven, sterling seasons in the NFL. He was a three-time All-Pro. He was a five-time Pro Bowl selection. More than that, he was a ferocious hitter and intense leader for Seattle from 1981-87, for some its first great teams.
Yet those waters Allen was testing remained poisoned well past the end of Easley’s playing career in 1988, at the age of 29. Easley had sued the Seahawks for allegedly causing kidney disease. Doctors eventually attributed Easley’s to the overuse of ibuprofen while playing through football’s constant pains, including his in his ankle and legs.
The suit was ultimately settled, and Easley received a kidney transplant.
That procedure didn’t heal his animosity toward his former team.
“I hadn’t spoken to anybody in the organization in 15 years,” Easley, now 58, said. “So Gary called me and told me what Paul had said. And so, thinking about my children and the fact that they had never seen me play -- and it had been 15 YEARS -- it was the proper time to do it.
“And I’m glad my children got to be a part of it and learn about their father and what he had done and how successful he had done it.
“(That), and the fact that it was new people running the organization. And running it very well.”
Indeed. Allen’s ownership brought coach and eventual general manager Mike Holmgren to lead the Seahawks to its first Super Bowl, in the 2005 season. He hired coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider in 2010. All they’ve done is give Seattle its first Super Bowl win at the end of the 2013 season, another Super Bowl appearance the following season plus five consecutive playoff appearances entering the 2017 preseason that begins with the start of training camp July 30.
Also under Allen’s ownership: Easley went into the team’s Ring of Honor in 2002, in front of sold-out Seattle crowd plus a national-television audience during halftime of game on Monday Night Football. He began coming back for team events and reunions, such as for the franchise’s 40th anniversary in September 2015.
Then in February, six months after he had triple bypass surgery, Easley became the fourth Seahawks player to play his entire career for Seattle then get voted into the Hall of Fame. A vote by the Hall of Fame’s senior committee then a knock on his hotel-room door at the last Super Bowl in Houston gave him the official word. The son of a former Marine, a boy who began playing football as a quarterback and free safety at age 10 for his demanding dad, is joining Steve Largent, Cortez Kennedy and Walter Jones as career Seahawk in the Hall of Fame.
Easley’s enshrinement is Aug. 5 in Canton.
“First of all, it’s a great honor,” Easley said.
Then he immediately thought of Kennedy, who died May 23 in Florida at the age 48 in an “unattended passing.”
“I am extremely sorry that we lost Cortez Kennedy,” Easley said.
The night before the announcement of the Hall of Fame class for 2017, in February, Easley said he had a “vivid” dream. In his sleep he could see the numbers of the Hall of Famers the Seahawks had already retired atop CenturyLink Field. Largent’s. Kennedy’s. Jones’. Plus the number 12. The franchise retired that for its “12th Man”, their fans.
“And I woke up in a sweat. ... It was like 4:30 in the morning,” Easley said, seeing his number 45 in his dream up there with the other Hall of Famers’. “The dream was so vivid, it was like I was already in the Hall of Fame. Like the actual knock on the door was a formality.”
Turned out the next day, it was.
So what did Bo know, anyway?
Easley told another story Tuesday, of how he remained a quarterback and safety from playing youth ball for his dad through a detour to left guard for one season in seventh grade in Virginia then while starring at Oscar F. Smith High School in Chesapeake. Colleges from all over recruited him, mostly to be an athletic QB. His choice came down to two national powerhouse programs with iconic coaches in the late 1970s.
“I didn’t want to play quarterback. I thought I was a natural athlete playing quarterback,” Easley said. “I thought I was a good free safety. So when I narrowed my choices down to Michigan and UCLA, (legendary Wolverines coach) Bo Schembechler said he couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t want to play quarterback in front of 100,000 people (inside Michigan Stadium).
What about safety?
“He said, ‘Anybody can play that,’” Easley said of Schembechler.
No. Not the way Easley did.
When Donahue visited the Easley household he told father and son that Kenny would be a safety at UCLA. So Easley signed with the Bruins.
And now look.
The Hall of Fame Class of 2017 is Morten Andersen, Terrell Davis, Jerry Jones, Jason Taylor, LaDainian Tomlinson, Kurt Warner -- and Easley.
He was told Tuesday his Seahawks number 45 was the only one among those about-to-be-enshrined greats whose jersey was sold out at the Hall of Fame’s gift shop in Canton.
“That’s interesting and great,” Easley said, proudly.
“That’s nice to hear.”