Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Cortez Kennedy, 1968-2017

Sir Roger Moore died today, the 1st James Bond I ever saw. But he was 89, so that's not particularly surprising.

But Cortez Kennedy? Wow.

Cortez C. Kennedy (I don't have a record of what the C. stood for) was born on August 23, 1968 in Osceola, Arkansas, and grew up in Wilson, both communities near the Mississippi River, north of Memphis.

A defensive tackle, he went to a junior college in Mississippi before winning a football scholarship to the University of Miami. He was a member of coach Jimmy Johnson's National Championship team in 1987, and an All-American on Dennis Erickson's National Championship team in 1989. His Hurricanes teammates included Steve Walsh, Michael Irvin, Daniel Stubbs, Russell Maryland, Jeff Feagles, and brothers Brian and Bennie Blades.

The Seattle Seahawks chose him with the 3rd overall pick in the 1990 NFL Draft, so he went as far as a player could go geographically in American football. In 1991, only his 2nd season, he was named to the Pro Bowl, and would be so honored 8 times in 11 seasons. In 1992, he was so dominant, he was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year, even though the 'Hawks went only 2-14. (Their only wins were 10-6 away to a terrible New England Patriots team, and a home overtime win over the Denver Broncos -- so they could very easily have gone 0-16.)

The Seahawks had been good for most of the 1980s, and have been good the last few years. But in the 1990s, with the Mariners getting good for the 1st time in their history and the SuperSonics in their last strong period (including a trip to the NBA Finals), the Seahawks became an afterthought in the Pacific Northwest sports scene. The only Playoff game Kennedy played in came after the 1999 season, and it was the last event at the Kingdome.

He sat out the 2001 season due to injury, and retired just before the 2002 season, so, after the 2-year hiatus at the University of Washington's Husky Stadium, he didn't get the chance to play in what's now named CenturyLink Field.

He was, as they say in that other football, a one-club man. He could have gone elsewhere, but he wanted to stay in Seattle. He loved the city and its people, although he lived in Orlando during the off-season.

A former Seahawk teammate, Mickey Loomis, became general manager of the New Orleans Saints, and hired him as an advisor to the team. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and to the NFL's 1990s All-Decade Team. The Seahawks retired his Number 96 (although, in his best season, he wore 99 in tribute to his University of Miami idol, Jerome Brown), and elected him to their Ring of Honor. UM elected him to their Sports Hall of Fame.
Honored at CenturyLink Field, 2012

In 2007, Sports Illustrated named him the best athlete ever to wear Number 96. In 2015, I agreed, putting him a little bit ahead of his contemporary, Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Clyde Simmons.

Clyde Simmons was found dead today, alone in his Orlando home, at the age of 48. No cause has yet been released, but police have said, "Nothing suspicious to report" -- suggesting that there was no foul play, and that it was not a suicide. No source I've yet seen suggests that he was sick.

Given his size -- 6-foot-6, and a playing weight listed as 292 pounds -- it's possible that this middle-aged man, only 16 months older than myself, had a heart attack.

It's also possible that this is another case of football itself, particularly the constant hard contact, down after down, game after game, year after year, causing an early breakdown of the body, or of the brain, leading to death.

It looks like it's not a crime. But it is a tragedy.

Jimmy Johnson tweeted: "Shocked at Cortez Kennedy passing..1 of the most talented players I ever recruited or coached...a fun loving person a sad day."

Kennedy had no connection to me, or to any team near me. But now that I'm getting to the point where "dying young" is no longer the same as "being young," I find non-violent deaths at around my age even more shocking than violent ones.

If this was the result of a long-term condition that the public doesn't yet know about, I hope he has found peace.

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