To the surprise of no one, Cortez Kennedy Saturday night thanked nearly everyone who offered him a hand along the way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But in a speech that that was funny, poignant and warm, the Seahawks defensive tackle also playfully called out his dad, Joe Harris, who made little Tez re-cut the lawn in the darkness of 5 a.m. when he didn’t do the job right the first time.
“If I don’t cut it right in the daytime, what the heck am I going to do at night?” Kennedy said, drawing roars from the thousands gathered for the enshrinement ceremony for him and five other NFL greats at the Hall in Canton, OH., including Joe, seated in the large Tez entourage. “But I got the point.”
Kennedy recounted lessons learned from childhood through 11 years with the Seahawks that ended in 2000. No mention was made of awards or football deeds.
He remembered how his mother pulled him out of football for his sophomore year in high school because of poor grades. She went on to attend the state high school championships, from where she wrote her son a postcard: “Wish you were here.”
He got he point then too. He picked up his grades and his team, from Wilson, AR., went undefeated to the state title his senior year.
He remembered one of the assistant coaches at the University of Miami, Randy Shannon, who slept on the floor of Kennedy’s apartment to help keep the star player on his weight loss program. That was probably an NCAA violation – this was Miami, after all – but Shannon was doing his job when he heard Kennedy -- who at 265 pounds has dropped 50 pounds from his playing days -- in the wee hours rustling around the fridge.
Shannon: “Cortez! Get outta there!”
Kennedy: “Don’t you ever sleep?”
He remembered the time in 1997 as a Seahawk when he broke his ankle, and the first two people to his door were team execs Mickey Loomis and Randy Mueller.
“I was crying like a baby, knowing I couldn’t play football,” Kennedy said. “And they showed up for me. I will never forget them for that.”
Kennedy showered his appreciative affection on Seahawks owners (even Ken Behring!), coaches – “and I had a lot of them” – executives, trainers, doctors, front office personnel and th 12th Man, the Seahawks hordes who celebrated Kennedy during the franchise’s bleakest hours, including the franchise’s near-move to Los Angeles in 1996.
Near the end, he saved special mention for his daughter, Courtney, 18, who could be seen in the audience wearing a “96” jersey and wiping away tears.
“When you were born, I swore I would protect you, love you and not let anyone every harm you,” he said. “Thank you for being my biggest fan.”
His presenter, Dixie Fraley Keller, is the widow of Kennedy’s longtime agent and friend, Robert Fraley, who died in 1999 in the private-plane crash that killed golfer Payne Stewart. In her videotaped remarks that preceded Kennedy’s live speech, she described Kennedy as “such a loyal person” who never forgot those who helped him.
“Cortez likes to fly under the radar,” she said. “ He soared higher than anyone.”
Kennedy closed his speech by talking about things bigger than winning and losing, then uttered a phrase that perhaps has never been uttered by a major figure in a public setting:
“God bless America and God bless the Seattle Seahawks!”
If there were any Northwest sports fans skeptical of Kennedy’s Hall worthiness, they were not to be found after that.