Kenny Easley was seeing a sport he no longer recognized. And he wanted no more of it.
The Seahawks’ former thumping safety, the 1984 NFL defensive player of the year and three-time All-Pro, was watching the Pro Bowl a few years ago.
As my colleague Dave Boling details so well in Friday’s News Tribune, 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 doctors eventually attributed to the overuse of pain-killing medications. The suit was ultimately settled, and Easley received a kidney transplant.
The Pro Bowl exhibition between mostly friends with little more at stake than what for them is pocket change, at the end of a punishing season, is the wrong barometer to check back in on football.
Still, Easley was aghast watching that all-star game. To him, the sport looked nothing like how he played it for seven punishing, dominant seasons for Seattle.
“Initially, I thought the league was growing soft. I mean, really soft,” Easley said Thursday on a conference call with Seattle-area media members in advance of Saturday’s vote to see if he will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a senior finalist. “I was channel surfing one day, this was a couple years ago, and I came across the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl game. I didn’t know what I was watching. I thought I was watching flag football, to be very honest with you.
“It was pitiful.
“I actually wrote a letter to the commissioner, Rodger Goodell, telling him that I was terribly disturbed by what was being represented as pro football in the Pro Bowl game.”
Easley, who was selected to five Pro Bowls in his seven Seahawks seasons, said he never got a reply from Goodell.
But he did get an epiphany.
One of the hardest-hitting Seahawks ever, one of the NFL’s all-time head hunters, now says hitting with the head is so 1984.
For most of the 1980s, the Seahawks’ patrolling No. 45 played through pain and injuries to inflict them on opponents. He did it by slamming his giant shoulder pads -- and often his silver helmet -- into darn near anyone he saw.
He recently came to realize that game he played is gone forever.
It has to be.
“After becoming more in tune with the issues of head injuries and CTE and all of the other issues surrounding head trauma, I understand why the game had to be altered,” Easley said Thursday. “If the game continued on the path that it was in the ‘80s and the ‘70s and ‘60s, when the players get bigger, faster, stronger, I mean, my God, you would probably have a majority of the players in the league with some sort of head trauma, head injury, etcetera.
“I understand why they had to change the game,” Easley said, “and I applaud them for doing it.”
Seattle’s current equivalent of Easley is Kam Chancellor. He, like Easley, plays strong safety with the mentality of an eliminator. Chancellor is known as “The Enforcer”; it’s his Twitter handle. That’s what Easley was, without the nickname.
Like Easley in his final three years before his kidney diagnosis ended his career, Chancellor has missed multiple games in each of his last three seasons while 26, 27 and 28 years old.
It’s why when I asked him as he left the Georgia Dome following the season-ending playoff loss at Atlanta on Jan. 14 what he thought his Seahawks future was, Chancellor looked at me, grinned and said, “Day to day. Day to day.”
“It’s a difficult thing right now to play football, particularly for players like Kam Chancellor, who like myself, was a warrior. He’s a warrior,” Easley said. “And he plays the game at that level that when he’s out on the football field, it’s, ‘Let’s go get the guy and put him down, by any means possible.’
“You can’t do that anymore. You can’t put a guy down by any means possible, particularly with your head.”
Right now, Easley is using his head -- to stay calm in advance of Saturday’s vote. The member of the Seahawks’ “Ring of Honor” along with Hall of Famers Steve Largent, Cortez Kennedy and Walter Jones, among others, was on his way Friday to the site of Sunday’s Super Bowl 51 between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons. He will be in a hotel room in Houston waiting on a word from the Hall of Fame that should -- if it’s done right -- come.
“I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to act on Saturday if I get selected,” Easley said. “I got a letter from the Hall of Fame a week ago. They said that they need me to be in my room between 1 and 3 o’clock. If you’re elected, then (Hall of Fame President) Dave Baker is going to come to your room and tell you the good news.
“I’m trying to work it out in my mind as to if David Baker does not come to my room between 1-3. How I’m going to deal with that? I don’t want to get too far out there and it doesn’t happen.”
Then Easley offered a deal he and generations of Seahawks fans would love to take him up on.
“I’ll tell you what,” he said. “If I get selected on Saturday, then you talk to me again and I’ll tell you how I feel about it, being with Largent and Cortez and Walter Jones. I’ll be happy to tell you then, how it feels to be amongst those guys as Hall of Famers for the Seahawks.”