Will Cortez Kennedy’s 4th Knock Open the Hall?

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January 31, 2012

By Tim Reynolds

CortezKennedy300_0131Cortez Kennedy’s home resembles a museum devoted to his football career.

His last Seattle Seahawks helmet is perched on a shelf, and his Miami degree — the one he finished on his own after leaving school early for the NFL — is on the wall, near photos of him with two U.S. Presidents. There’s a street sign bearing his name from his hometown, framed letters from giants of sport, palm trees around the pool, unbelievable golf-course views and just about anything else he wants.

Some days, his biggest concern is deciding whether to take the afternoon flight from Florida back to Arkansas for a quick deer hunting trip.

His life is happy, full, complete. Well, almost.

“People always ask me, ‘Do you think you should be in the Hall of Fame?’” Kennedy said. “I always say yes.”

On Saturday, he’ll learn if others agree.

For the fourth time, Kennedy is a finalist for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. This year’s class will be decided Saturday, on the eve of the Super Bowl in Indianapolis. He would be the 14th defensive tackle to be chosen, and his numbers — eight Pro Bowls, three All-Pro teams — compare well with others who have gotten the call.

“I can honestly tell you, if getting in the Hall of Fame is my biggest worry, then I’m doing OK,” Kennedy said. “So I guess I’m doing OK.”

He was the league’s defensive player of the year in 1992 — for a Seahawks team that won two games.

His career included 58 sacks. He went seven seasons without missing a game, played in at least 15 games 10 times, and turned down some fairly lucrative contracts at the end of his career so he could retire saying he played for only one NFL team.

“I say this all the time,” said former Miami Hurricanes teammate and longtime friend, Randy Shannon. “People, fans, people around him, they always liked him because he’s a likable guy, but they will never know how good a player Cortez Kennedy was. Never. But in that locker room, we knew. He’d do anything it took on the field to win and be an example, did it in high school that way, college, Seattle. That was Cortez. No doubt, one of the best. Ever.”

Today, Kennedy is enjoying the spoils that came with what he did on the field.

He’s still a fan favorite in Seattle, and spends a good chunk of time during the season around the New Orleans Saints, for whom some of his closest friends and confidants work. His home is in a well-to-do community, with neighbors including U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, golfer Ian Poulter and famed coach Lou Holtz — someone Kennedy tormented at the height of the Miami-Notre Dame rivalry.

Holtz got over it, apparently: He wrote the letter asking that Kennedy be approved to move into the gated community he now calls home.

On a recent afternoon, Kennedy got into his golf cart — he rarely golfs — and zipped around the development: A bowl of soup at the clubhouse; a chat with neighbors after they putted out on the first green; a visit with a young girl near the tennis courts, asking why he hadn’t seen her parents recently. He couldn’t drive 100 feet, it seemed, without someone taking notice.

“People are so nice,” Kennedy said. “Always have been. You be nice to them, they’re nice to you.”

He chose to live in Orlando for two reasons: His past, and his daughter’s future.

First, the past. Kennedy became smitten with the Orlando area while training there during his playing days. His agent, Robert Fraley — who died in the 1999 plane accident that also killed golfer Payne Stewart — lived there, and Kennedy thought the place was perfect. To this day, Kennedy speaks with reverence about Fraley. Months after Fraley died, Kennedy played his first NFL playoff game and gave his bonus to charity in memory of Fraley and Jerome Brown, a Miami teammate and friend.

“I always wanted to be like Robert,” Kennedy said. “Robert taught me things I still use today in my life.”

Next, the future. Kennedy has custody of his 16-year-old daughter Courtney, a high school junior and a standout athlete in track and basketball. Even when one or the other is traveling, they usually talk several times a day.

She asked for a car when she got her license, so a Cadillac Escalade with personalized plates arrived in the driveway. The way Kennedy saw it, the gift was far from extravagant.

“It was safe,” he said.

He is still a mountain of a man, though in very good shape. A 90-minute walk is part of his regular regimen. He saved his money and envisions a return to the NFL in some capacity someday, probably after Courtney starts college.

“I wouldn’t trade this for the world,” Kennedy said.