Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon understands that NFL historians will focus on Kenny Easley’s ball-hawking and devastating hits on receivers foolish enough to enter his neighborhood in the secondary.
But on Monday, Moon recalled another way the Seattle Seahawks’ universally feared strong safety used to control games.
Asked if Easley forced offenses to alter their schemes, Moon cited Easley’s savage run support.
“You never wanted to run where he was because he was such a ferocious tackler,” Moon said. “A lot of times when I played against him, we had an ‘opposite’ call we’d use. When I got to the line, I saw what side Kenny was on, and if that was where the play was supposed to go, I’d yell ‘opposite, opposite’ and we’d go the other direction.”
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More than the raw statistics Easley compiled in an injury-shortened career, it was the widespread recognition of his physical dominance that earned Easley a spot as a senior finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2017.
“I think it should have been done when he was first eligible,” Moon said. “He was one of the most tenacious players in football at the time. No question, when he was playing, Kenny and (Hall of Famer) Ronnie Lott were at a level to themselves.”
Easley, 57, last week reported on Twitter that he had undergone triple-bypass heart surgery.
Kidney troubles forced him out of the game and led to suits against Seahawks team doctors and trainers for improper distribution of pain medications. He underwent a kidney transplant in 1990.
The experience with the Seahawks left him estranged from the franchise before reconciling and being put in the team’s Ring of Honor in 2002.
Playing in just 89 NFL games is the likely reason Easley was overlooked for Hall of Fame recognition before becoming eligible as a “senior.”
Discussions of Easley generally center on his athleticism and competitive intensity.
The fourth player taken in the 1981 draft, Easley was a consensus All-American three seasons at UCLA.
“Look at his history, he was on the freshman basketball team at UCLA,” said Paul Moyer, who was a Seahawks teammate and friend of Easley. “He was close to a scratch golfer; I saw him shoot a 67 at Sahalee (Country Club) one day. He could throw a football 60 yards. There’s nothing he couldn’t do.”
In 1984, when he was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year, Easley led the league with 10 interceptions. It led to one of his five Pro Bowl honors.
And this was playing at strong safety when, most would agree, he should have been at free safety where he could spread his dread from sideline to sideline.
“There’s not one player from that era who wouldn’t say that (Easley) was the best of the best,” Moyer said. “He truly changed the game.”
Teams started devising plays to put in motion the man Easley was guarding and just run him to the sideline to take him out of the play, Moyer said.
All-Pro Seahawks running back Curt Warner said he’s still glad he only had to practice against Easley instead of face him in games “so I didn’t have to feel the full impact of his wrath.”
Warner likened Easley’s influence on the game to that of New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor, who could force offenses to game plan specifically around a single defender.
“His intensity was like nothing I’ve ever seen,” Warner said. “I have never witnessed anybody who played that hard, full-bore, every collision. That guy played every play, every down, like it was his last. He never took a play off — not a single play, not that guy.”
But Moyer began noticing Easley tiring during their golf outings. It was unusual for a man who used to get up at dawn during training camp in Cheney to sneak in nine holes of golf at Indian Canyon, come back and go through double-session practices in the blazing heat, and then race out before sunset to cram in another nine holes.
And after seven luminous and violent seasons in Seattle, he was traded to Arizona, where his physical revealed his kidney disease.
Moyer looked back and wondered how much longer Easley could have played if he’d been at free safety rather than strong, where he would have taken/given fewer big hits, and been more of a playmaking center fielder.
“Maybe that would have saved his body some, maybe he would get another five seasons,” Moyer said. “And all of a sudden, he’s in the discussion with Ronnie Lott and Charles Woodson as the best secondary player of all time.”
Easley was enormously well-respected but not generally well-known.
“He has a soft heart, and a lot of people don’t know that,” Moyer said. “He’s guarded, and it takes a little while to get to know him. But I’ve seen him get emotional with how much he cared about our team, and how loyal he was to his friends.
“And the one thing he cared about more than anybody I ever knew was winning.”
It’s up to a committee now to take that all that into account and give Easley a well-deserved place in the Hall of Fame.