Kenny Easley’s done it. He’s gone from estranged to endangered to enshrined into football immortality.
The Seahawks legend, their former thumping safety, 1984 NFL defensive player of the year and three-time All-Pro, was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday as a senior finalist.
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 Seahawks to play his entire career for Seattle to enter the Hall of Fame. He joins Steve Largent, Cortez Kennedy and Walter Jones.
“I will never get this feeling out of my heart,” Easley told the Hall of Fame’s Joe Horrigan Saturday night in Houston.
Later, he told media members in Houston: "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 came 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.
After this summer there will be 310 former players, coaches and contributors to professional football enshrined in Canton.
Last August the Hall of Fame’s Seniors 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’s 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 in Canton six months ago was Floyd Little, the former Denver Broncos star running back. He was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 2010, 35 years after he retired and also after not being a finalist as a modern player in 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 back 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 ball carriers.
As my colleague Dave Boling detailed so well in Friday’s News Tribune, 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 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 he’s joined a club even more exclusive. The most prestigious one in the game.