NFL Nation: Cortez Kennedy

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- A Super Bowl between the Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers might have been just too much for the Oakland Raiders and their fans to bear.

A title game between one of the Raiders’ most bitter rivals from the Mile High City and their cross-bay brethren? Imagine the smack flying their way with such a matchup. Or did you miss former Raiders running back Napoleon Kaufman’s tweet early Sunday?


Someone had to win the AFC Championship Game, though, and when the Broncos held off the Patriots 26-16, the Raiders’ virulent division opponent’s ticket was punched for New Jersey, which left the NFC title up for grabs.

Just like Colin Kaepernick’s floater to Michael Crabtree that Richard Sherman knocked into the waiting arms of Malcolm Smith for an interception with 22 seconds to play to clinch the 23-17 victory for the Seahawks and give Kaufman, who played his college ball at Washington, a sigh of relief.

And yet, as noted in this space last week, the Seahawks used to live in the same division as the Raiders, too. From 1977 through 2001 they were AFC West roomies, if not necessarily homies, and they even met in the 1983 AFC title game for the right to play in Super Bowl XVIII, when the Raiders called Los Angeles home and the Seahawks had more aesthetically pleasing uniforms.

The Raiders won that game and the Super Bowl -- and have not hoisted a Vince Lombardi Trophy since.

Plus, there’s the Tom Flores connection. Flores, who won two Super Bowls as the Raiders' coach, was burning out and hoped to take a year off after the 1987 season. But Al Davis hired Mike Shanahan instead, and Flores went up north to become the Seahawks’ president/general manager in 1989 and added coach to his title in 1992. He lasted three years.

Flores, after going a combined 91-56 with the Raiders from 1979 to 1987, including the playoffs, was just 14-34 coaching the Seahawks, with whom his draft picks included future Hall of Fame defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy and quarterbacks Dan McGwire and Rick Mirer.

Alas, Oakland knows Denver and Seattle well. In fact, the Raiders’ all-time winning percentages against the Broncos (.561, 59-46-2) and Seahawks (.549, 23-23-0) rank 10th and 12th, respectively, against all opponents.

Then there’s this: With the Broncos set to represent the conference, the Raiders, who played in Super Bowl XXXVII in January 2003, will no longer be the most recent AFC West team to play on Super Sunday.

Draft rewind: Seahawks' five-year recap

February, 20, 2013
2/20/13
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A look at the NFC West's best and worst from the past five NFL drafts, one team at a time.

Seattle Seahawks

Best choice: Russell Wilson, QB, 2012 third round. Wilson went from springtime curiosity to surprise opening-day starter to Pro Bowl quarterback in eight months. Seattle has hit big on some other draft choices during the Pete Carroll-John Schneider era, but Wilson stands apart from the rest. No rookie in the 36-year history of the organization has impacted the team as dramatically as Wilson did in 2012. That is a bold statement, but one that required about 30 seconds of verification. Wilson is the first QB draft choice in Seahawks history to succeed with the team. None of the other 15 came close (Mike Teel, David Greene, Seneca Wallace, Jeff Kelly, Josh Booty, Brock Huard, Rick Mirer, Dan McGwire, John Gromos, Sammy Garza, David Norrie, John Conner, Sam Adkins, Steve Myer and Chris Rowland). The 26 touchdown passes Wilson threw during the regular season exceed the Seattle career totals for every one of those other 15 drafted QBs except Mirer, who had 41 touchdowns over four seasons with the team.

Worst choice: Aaron Curry, LB, 2009 first round. The Seahawks thought they were making the surest choice of the 2009 draft when they made Curry the fourth overall choice. Instead, a franchise that had used top-10 picks for defensive stars Cortez Kennedy and Kenny Easley got an all-time bust. Curry had 5.5 sacks, 12 passes defensed and four forced fumbles while starting 28 of 30 games for the Seahawks over two seasons. Something wasn't right, however, and by Curry's third season, the team had seen enough. Seattle essentially bought out Curry's expensive rookie contract to facilitate a trade to Oakland. Lawrence Jackson was a distant second for this distinction.

Verdict pending: James Carpenter, OL, 2011 first round. Wilson's selection in 2012 offsets lingering regrets from the Seahawks' decision to draft Carpenter over Andy Dalton a year earlier. Still, Seattle cannot feel good about how Carpenter's career has unfolded. Carpenter was struggling in pass protection at right tackle before a severe knee injury convinced Seattle that Carpenter's future would be at left guard, next to tackle Russell Okung. The conversion did not go well last season because the knee injury continued to limit Carpenter's mobility. The coming season appears pivotal for Carpenter.

Related: 2011 draft rewind.
Dermontti Dawson and Jack Butler, the two newest Steelers to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, went in with a touch of class Saturday night.

Dawson, a seven-time Pro Bowl center, paid tribute to the player he replaced, the late Mike Webster, who is also a Hall of Fame center.

[+] EnlargePittsburgh's Jack Butler and Dermontti Dawson
Charles LeClaire/US PRESSWIREJack Butler, left, and Dermontti Dawson, right, became the latest Steelers to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
"Mike taught me how to be a true professional, whether he knew it or not," Dawson said. "I observed Mike each day and saw how he approached every aspect of the game. Mike used to be the first ones in the weight room in the mornings, first ones in the meetings."

Dawson added, "I tried to emulate everything Mike did. Mike had a profound impact on my life and even today I still try to lead by example and be like Mike. Thank you, my friend, for playing and living with honor. We miss you."

Butler, one of the best cornerbacks in the 1950s, could have stood on stage for as long as he wanted considering he waited 52 years to be enshrined. But his speech was the shortest of the night. It was 337 heartfelt words (as compared to Cortez Kennedy's 2,943-word soliloquy that included a shout-out to his childhood doctor).

"I never envisioned being here in Canton," Butler said. "This induction is the highest honor I have achieved in my professional career."

The 84-year-old Butler wrapped up by saying, "I am grateful and very proud to be part of this great Class of 2012, and I congratulate the five tremendous men who join me here. I am thankful to God for all that I have been given throughout my life. I am thankful for the support of my family and friends. ... Heck, I'm thankful I'm here."

To read the entire speeches, you can click here for Dawson and here for Butler.

HOF12: Curtis Martin's amazing story

August, 4, 2012
8/04/12
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CANTON, Ohio -- Curtis Martin won his bet to make it through his Pro Football Hall of Fame speech without crying.

Did anyone else?

Martin, in accepting his enshrinement to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, shared details about his life that would wrench the hardest heart: the murders of his grandmother and aunt; the manner in which his father tortured his mother; the time someone held a gun to his head and pulled the trigger seven times, only to have a bullet discharge on the eighth pull, when the gun was pointed elsewhere.

This was as moving a speech as I can recall hearing.

That Martin would survive all this and grow into a man with the wherewithal to nurture his mother to health? That, together, they would forgive his father?

It's a good thing Martin's speech came last. No one could have followed him.

Martin closed by saying he hoped his daughter, when delivering his eulogy years from now, would speak not of the yards he gained, but of the man he became. He hoped she would speak of having sought a man of similar character. He hoped she would, in closing his eulogy, leave mourners with a footnote.

"Oh yeah," she would say, "he was a pretty good football player."

Martin's presenter, retired coach Bill Parcells, spoke of his former player's great balance. Martin's speech showed the same quality. He balanced those emotional reflections with humor. And he showed great wisdom.

Martin busted on fellow enshrinee Willie Roaf for suggesting the Class of 2012 go for pedicures this week. He joked about Cortez Kennedy speaking for so long that God decided to turn off the lights.

Martin again found the right balance when discussing player safety issues, particularly whether he'd feel OK about his own child playing the game, were Martin to have a son.

Two previously enshrined Hall of Famers -- I could not identify them from a distance -- rose and applauded when Martin provided a thoughtful answer. Martin said he never sought football or loved it, but he learned life lessons from it through Parcells, through his former high school coach and through experiences on the field.

"If kids can learn what I learned from playing the game," Martin said in words to that effect, "I'd let him play. It would be worth the risk."

Martin rushed for 102 yards and the winning touchdown in his first regular-season NFL game. Parcells, upon seeing reporters gather around Martin's locker for postgame interviews, let it be known Martin was merely a "one-game wonder."

Before too long, "one-game wonder" would give way to "Boy Wonder" as Parcells' preferred nickname for Martin. The more flattering moniker survives to this day, for good reason. Martin opened his career with 10 consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, an NFL record shared by another Hall of Famer, Barry Sanders.

Martin turned out to be a pretty good football player, all right, and so much more.

CANTON, Ohio -- Dermotti Dawson, the fifth of six Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinees to speak Saturday night, thanked his parents for the guidance they provided over the years.

The other modern-day finalists preceding Dawson at the podium -- Willie Roaf, Chris Doleman and Cortez Kennedy -- made similar comments.

Curtis Martin, the final enshrinee scheduled to speak, will tell a different story. He'll surely pay tribute to his mother, but so many other factors in his life worked against him. His father left the family when Martin was 4. His grandmother was stabbed to death in brutal fashion when Martin was 9.

Martin never dreamed of the Hall of Fame; at one point, his goal while growing up in a rough Pittsburgh neighborhood was simply reaching age 21. The speech he delivers Saturday night has the potential to pack a different type of emotional punch.
CANTON, Ohio -- A theme is emerging throughout the ongoing Pro Football Hall of Fame proceedings.

Chris Doleman and Cortez Kennedy in particular have stressed the importance strong parenting played in their lives and, ultimately, in their successes on the field.

They've spoken of parents who held them accountable when it might have been easier let them off the hook.

Doleman's father had one rule: Finish whatever you start. Signing up for a sport or anything meant seeing it through no matter what.

Kennedy thanked his father for forcing him to cut the grass at 5 a.m. after doing a poor job the first time.

Kennedy reflected on his mother forcing him to quit the football team in high school when his grades slipped. When Kennedy's former teammates won a state title without him, Kennedy's mother went to the game and sent a postcard home.

"Wish you were here," it read.

Running away from difficulties might have shielded Doleman and Kennedy from short-term failures, but the lasting lessons would have been negative ones. Hats off to their parents.

HOF12: Payton's ties go beyond Roaf

August, 4, 2012
8/04/12
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CANTON, Ohio -- The NFL has allowed suspended New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton to attend the Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement now under way.

I saw Payton and his son at the Gold Jacket Dinner on Friday night. They sat briefly at the table next to ours, but Payton did not stay long. He was seen back at the McKinley Grand Hotel while the dinner proceedings were ongoing. The NFL obviously wants Payton to keep a low profile during his bounty-related absence.

Payton's connections to the program extend beyond the enshrinement of former New Orleans (and Kansas City) tackle Willie Roaf.

Another enshrinee, Cortez Kennedy, has worked for the Saints in an advisory role. Kennedy remains particularly close to Saints general manager Mickey Loomis, who was a Seattle Seahawks executive when Kennedy played for that team. Kennedy won a Super Bowl ring with the Saints. He has two NFL families, in other words, and Payton leads one of them when he's not suspended.
CANTON, Ohio -- Welcome to Fawcett Stadium for the 2012 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony.

I'll be blogging throughout the proceedings, as you might have noticed when this post went live a bit earlier. First, a look at the order for enshrinement and speeches for the program, which begins at 7 p.m. ET:
  • Willie Roaf: This one promises to be emotional, as anyone who witness the way Roaf's father, Clifton, hugged him during the Gold Jacket Dinner presentation Friday night. Clifton Roaf is presenting his son. The Hall encourages presenters to limit their comments to eight minutes in duration. That could be tough for the elder Roaf.
  • Jack Butler: Butler had to wait a record 50 years for enshrinement. He won't have to wait long Saturday night. The Hall has him going second.
  • Chris Doleman: The former Minnesota, Atlanta and San Francisco defensive end offered some thoughts Friday on the state of the game. I hope to share those a bit later.
  • Cortez Kennedy: The second career Seahawk to earn enshrinement will have some time to gather his thoughts. He's fourth in the order.
  • Dermontti Dawson: One of the greatest interior offensive linemen follows one of the greatest interior defensive linemen.
  • Curtis Martin: Bill Parcells is presenting Martin. Parcells could be back as an enshrinee before long. Parcells does have some star power. Having him go last wasn't a bad idea.

Should be a memorable night.
CANTON, Ohio -- Ninety-degree heat and 57 percent humidity could not stop Seattle Seahawks fan Jeff Evert from taking his seat at Fawcett Stadium two-plus hours before the Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony.

[+] EnlargeSeattle Seahawks
Mike Sando/ESPN.comJeff Evert of Richland, Wash., wearing a Cortez Kennedy jersey, sits alone in the heat awaiting the Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremonies.
Evert, visiting from Richland, Wash., regretting missing Steve Largent's enshrinement in 1995. He wasn't going to miss Cortez Kennedy's enshrinement with the 2012 class. Evert, wearing a newly purchased "Vintage" series jersey with Kennedy's name and No. 96, sat nearly alone in the stands for hours.

Evert toured the Hall of Fame and overdosed on Pittsburgh Steelers stuff. By the time he encountered the giant mural showing Steelers players dousing then-coach Bill Cowher with Gatorade, he'd had enough.

"I know I shouldn't be that way," Evert said, "but Seahawk fans have always felt like they got screwed over in that one Super Bowl."

They don't have to worry about it Saturday night, although the Steelers do hold a 2-1 edge over the Seahawks in 2012 enshrinees. Dermontti Dawson and Jack Butler are joining Kennedy on the dais.

Update: As I'm looking down on Evert's seat, I notice two Steelers fans occupying the seats next to him.
CANTON, Ohio -- We're a few hours away from the 7 p.m. ET start to enshrinement ceremonies at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

I'll be heading over early to get a feel for what awaits.

Cortez Kennedy and his daughter, Courtney, were seen downstairs at the main hotel here a bit ago. Kennedy seemed relaxed for a man nearing the hour when he'll be giving a speech center stage.

The Hall itself opened early Saturday. A few thoughts after touring the Hall for the first time:
  • Cool Cardinals exhibit: One display case features a Pat Tillman jersey, the shiny black Nike shoes Patrick Peterson wore when returning a punt 99 yards for a touchdown to beat the St. Louis Rams in Week 9 last season and the gloves Larry Fitzgerald wore while collecting his 400th career reception against the New York Giants on Nov. 23, 2008. Fitzgerald became the youngest receiver to reach 400 catches.
  • Busts are accessible: The Hall features busts for the 267 Hall of Famers already enshrined, plus spaces for the busts honoring 2012 inductees. The busts are arranged by year of enshrinement. They rest on open-air perches, allowing visitors to touch them. The busts were low enough for our kids to pose with them, sometimes almost cheek to cheek. Seeing our boys' heads flanking Dick "Night Train" Lane's bust was a highlight of the visit.
  • Interactive video: Touch-screen menus allow visitors to cue up short highlight and documentary packages for various Hall of Famers. These were good, but a little short. We wanted more. Of course, with more than nine million visitors to this point and quite a few coming around the time of enshrinement each year, there isn't time for each person to watch a full-length movie.
  • "Madden 12" center: Kids packed this area and ours were initially eager to join in the gaming, but we drew the line on this one. Something seemed wrong about using time at the Hall to play games many kids have at home.
  • Homage to Lombardi: The Hall features a sideline player bench used at Lambeau Field for Vince Lomardi's final game as the Green Bay Packers' coach, in 1967. They've wisely got it stowed safely in a display, preventing people from sitting on it.
  • Harbaughs making history: Jim Harbaugh's autograph dresses up a game ball from the San Francisco 49ers' game against Harbaugh's brother, John, and the Baltimore Ravens last season. The game itself was forgettable from the 49ers' perspective.

All for now. Time to get ready for the festivities Saturday night.

HOF12: The experience of a lifetime

August, 4, 2012
8/04/12
11:07
AM ET
CANTON, Ohio -- Sights and sounds from a magical first 30 hours in Canton for festivities relating to the upcoming 2012 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony:

Batting 1.000


[+] EnlargeCortez Kennedy
US PresswireNo doubt, Seattle's Cortez Kennedy was one of the most dominant defensive players of his era.
Cortez Kennedy was the person I hoped to see first Thursday night after unloading bags for check-in at the McKinley Grand Hotel. He was the 2012 enshrinee I'd covered years ago and gotten to know while presenting his case to the other Hall selectors. Having the retired Seattle Seahawks great step from the hotel's entrance before I could get my bags to the curb foreshadowed good fortune.

A trip to the hotel bar a couple hours later found the place mostly empty except for a couple reporters from Minnesota. I sat down with them and soon discovered Hall of Famer John Randle, Kennedy's teammate on the 1990s All-Decade team, seated across the way. Two-for-two and three full days in Canton still to come.

I'm not much of a drinker -- a six-pack lasts a year in our house -- so when tequila shots appeared unexpectedly on our side of the bar, visions of "Frank the Tank" from Old School came to mind.

My hesitance must have been easy to spot. Randle rose from his chair and looked my way.

"Hey, you in?"

Enjoying the ride(s)

Trip One to the elevator produces a five-story ride with Thurman Thomas and his wife, Patti.

Leroy Kelly, Elvin Bethea and Roger Wehrli are along for the ride on a subsequent trip.

By then, my wife, Kim, and our two sons, Derek (10) and Cade (7), have arrived via red-eye flight from Seattle to Cleveland. We'd decided to make this a family trip, a mini-vacation for them, upon learning months earlier that Kennedy had earned enshrinement.

"We were just in the elevator with Gale Sayers!" Derek announced upon entering our room.

Heading to the Hall

The lobby was packed with Hall of Famers, most wearing their gold jackets, as they assemble for bus rides (police escorts included) to the Hall for a dedication ceremony. Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson Jr. will be there when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Hall officials cut red ribbon for the new Pro Football Research and Preservation Center in Wilson's name.

Another chance meeting with Kennedy produces a lucky break. He graciously invites me to ride along in his car, along with Mark, an off-duty police officer from Las Vegas and Kennedy's friend since 1994.

The weather is already sizzling when we arrive, but it doesn't get much cooler than this: Hall of Fame corner Lem Barney, who averaged five picks per season for 11 years with the Detroit Lions, practically intercepts us as we get out of the car. He shakes Kennedy's hand. Mark and I get handshakes, too. Kennedy follows the red carpet to the special seating area for Hall of Famers.

All in the family

Mark and I wind up sitting next to Patti Thomas, Thurman's wife, in the front row of the general-seating area. Sayers and Joe Greene sit across the rope divider about six feet away. She's moved when Wilson, 93 and a World War II veteran, delivers a speech marked by self-deprecating humor after initially needing assistance to stand.

The Hall experience can be as much for the families as for the enshrinees themselves.

"I'm his wife and I'm blown away," Patti Thomas said. "These guys that you grow up watching ... my brothers come. They are huge sports fans. They're like kids in a candy shop. They've met 'em all and they're still like that, over and over again. Ninety-five percent of the guys are very outgoing. It's been an amazing thing. What a huge blessing."

Ray Nitschke Luncheon

From the Hall, it's off to the annual initiation luncheon, a chance for the new class to socialize with existing Hall of Famers in a private setting. Goodell is there, as are Hall officials, Class of 2012 presenters and some selection committee members. There are no wives or family members. And when lunch is served, enshrinees head into their own private room. No one else is allowed inside.

A microphone gets passed around, but the current class only listens. What happens beyond that, no one can say for certain.

"Thurman has so much fun when we come," Patti Thomas said. "He tells me his favorite thing of all is the Ray Nitschke Luncheon because it's only Hall of Famers, just the guys in there. And he said that is the coolest event because it's just us. Nobody else is allowed to come in there and he loves it."

A Butler and a dentist

Former Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Jack Butler waited 50 years for enshrinement, a record. His son and presenter, John, would give a guy the shirt off his back. John Butler did just that Friday. When one of the Hall of Famers showed up with the wrong shirt -- all were supposed to wear official blue Hall polos -- the younger Butler gave up his.

While the Hall of Famers were enjoying their privacy and camaraderie at the Nitschke luncheon, John Butler and Willie Roaf's father, Clifton, a retired dentist, sat down at the table I'd chosen in our less exclusive luncheon room.

What an honor it was for me, a first-time visitor to Canton, and the two other Hall selectors seated at our table.

I'd approached Jack Butler in the hotel lobby earlier in the day, congratulating him on his enshrinement. With Ted Hendricks, James Lofton and several other Hall of Famers gathering nearby, the elder Butler said "it's starting to have a meaning to it all."

"It's amazing, just incredible," John Butler said. "You think about it in the past, we would look at his numbers, ever since I was a kid, and say, 'Wow, his numbers match up.' But it's not like an expectation he'll get in. When it happens, it's overwhelming."

Gold Jacket Dinner

[+] EnlargeCurtis Martin
Linda Cataffo/NY Daily News Archive/Getty ImagesBeing steady in his career and patient with his rushing attack earned Curtis Martin a Hall of Fame induction.
Kennedy, Roaf, Butler, Dermontti Dawson, Chris Doleman and Curtis Martin received their gold jackets during an emotional ceremony at the local civic center Friday night.

Our family purchased tickets and arrived with a group featuring Greene, Dave Casper, Tom Mack and others.

"Is that the ghost-to-the-post guy?" Cade, our youngest, asked later.

That was him. Of course, Casper accomplished much more for the Oakland Raiders than his famed overhead grab for a 42-yard gain against Baltimore on Christmas Eve 1977. A 7-year-old raised on NFL Films drama might not know that yet.

Dozens of previously enshrined Hall of Famers took their turn walking an aisle through guest tables before greeting the 2012 class on stage. My wife heard our oldest, Derek, gasp when Marshall Faulk's name was called.

The boys craned to see Warren Moon make his entrance.

The video highlight packages are what got me.

Dawson pulling from his center position and flattening the same defender twice on one play. Doleman forcing fumble after fumble with blind-side hits on quarterbacks. Kennedy beat the center and then dragging the guard into the backfield to stop a runner in his tracks. Roaf collapsing one side of the formation with devastating power. Martin setting up his runs with patience and accelerating away from trouble. Butler picking off passes, scoring as a receiver and lighting up opponents (I feared Goodell might fine him retroactively).

There were poignant moments, too. The elder Roaf hugged his son and wouldn't let go. When he finally walked away, leaving his son to sport his new jacket alone on the stage, Clifton Roaf squeezed the bridge of his nose between finger and thumb, as if to stop the tears.

The after party

Once the Gold Jacket Dinner broke, Hall of Famers and their families returned to the hotel for a reception.

My kids headed straight for the ice cream sundae bar, of course.

Not to worry, a nearby bartender offered. Bill Parcells, presenter for Martin, had done the same thing. A weekend such as this one makes all of us feel like kids.
video

CANTON, Ohio -- Fans tuning in to watch Pro Football Hall of Fame speeches Saturday night can expect Cortez Kennedy to thank the late Robert Fraley, his former agent and mentor, for contributing so much to his life.

Fraley died in the plane crash that also killed golfer Payne Stewart in 1999.

Days after Fraley's passing, Kennedy paid tribute to his friend with a dominating performance for the Seattle Seahawks during a 27-7 victory over the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Kennedy also forced a fumble during that Monday night game.

Kennedy's close friendship with Fraley explains why the new Hall of Famer has selected Fraley's widow, Dixie, to present him at enshrinement. Kennedy reflected on his choice and on Seahawks' fans during the video above, shot during a media availability session Friday.
video
CANTON, Ohio -- Two of the quickest interior linemen in NFL history are heading into the Pro Football Hall of Fame together in the Class of 2012.

Former Pittsburgh Steelers center Dermontti Dawson and former Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy were first-team all-decade selections for the 1990s. Both retired following the 2000 season. Each played his entire career with the same team.

Dawson went to seven Pro Bowls. Kennedy went to eight.

The symmetry of their careers struck me while listening to both men during a media session Friday featuring members of the 2012 class.

Dawson distinguished himself by moving as well or better than just about any center ever. He was quick enough to snap the ball and execute pulling blocks, giving the Steelers an edge in their running game.

Kennedy generated rare power and quickness. His 1992 season ranks among the greatest for any defender. Tackles weren't supposed to collect 14 sacks in a season, particularly while dominating against the run, as Kennedy did.

The video features Dawson's thoughts on Kennedy. Dawson also explains what helped him (Dawson) gain the notoriety that contributed to his selection for the Hall of Fame.

I'll be back in a bit with some thoughts from Kennedy. He tends to shy away from interviews, but I think he enjoyed this one, given the occasion.

HOF12: Finding 'Tez' in Canton

August, 3, 2012
8/03/12
10:30
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CANTON, Ohio -- One second you're driving along Interstate 77 from Cleveland to Canton. The next second you're face to face with the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2012.

It's a sight for any football fan to behold.

Football's hallowed Hall sits closer to the interstate than I would have imagined. Exterior lighting illuminates the colorful posters featuring each new enshrinee's mugshot. Jack Butler, Dermontti Dawson, Chris Doleman, Cortez Kennedy, Curtis Martin and Willie Roaf on public display.

[+] EnlargeCortez Kennedy
US PresswireNo doubt, Seattle's Cortez Kennedy was one of the most dominant defensive players of his era.
The enshrinement ceremony isn't til Saturday, but each new Hall of Famer has been building to this moment since his selection in early February.

A glance at the rear-view mirror while approaching the Hall late Thursday night revealed no cars in sight. I touched the brakes on my rental car to process the visual.

From there it was on the McKinley Grand Hotel, where the Hall of Famers are staying.

Security officials have limited access to guests only. At least one Hall of Famer was sitting on a bench out front when I arrived, a gold jacket revealing his status as one of the very best to ever play the game. Darkness had fallen and I couldn't positively identify him.

A familiar face awaited near the hotel entrance. Kennedy has cut so much weight, he looks more like a big linebacker than the defensive tackle with the most Pro Bowls during the 1990s (eight). I'd guess he's in the low 260s, down from the 300- to 320-pound range during his playing days.

"Kennedy!" shouted a fan standing down on the corner, behind the security line.

My role as the Hall selector for the Seattle market included the honor of presenting Kennedy's credentials to the other selectors during our annual meeting one day before the Super Bowl.

The process had provided an opportunity to speak with Kennedy regularly and know him better. He was always grateful for any efforts on his behalf, but he never campaigned for support. That wouldn't be his style.

I'd gotten to know Kennedy a little while covering the Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune during his final three seasons, ending in 2000. Polite and reserved, Kennedy wasn't much use for reporters. He wouldn't speak off the record, said little on it and seemed determined to keep a low profile. His play would do his talking.

I've found Kennedy to be much more engaging outside the player-reporter context. He's got a sense of humor and the cackle to go with it. Kennedy has been a happy man during the six months since learning this would be his year, but he's continued to lay low. There has been no media tour.

Kennedy and the other new Hall of Famers are scheduled to give nationally televised speeches at the enshrinement ceremony Saturday. Kennedy doesn't like to talk about himself, but I'm thinking he'll enjoy the moment.

It's not every day your face flies on a banner atop the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Curtis MartinCraig Melvin/US PresswireRunning back Curtis Martin finished his Hall of Fame career with 14,101 rushing yards.
Every NFL player could learn from Curtis Martin.

The former third-round draft pick was never the fastest player, nor the biggest nor the most athletic. But it was Martin's heart, work ethic, character and dedication that made him the NFL's fourth all-time leading rusher with 14,101 yards.

Martin's football journey will end this weekend in Canton, Ohio. He is part of the 2012 Hall of Fame class that also includes Willie Roaf, Cortez Kennedy, Dermontti Dawson, Chris Doleman and Jack Butler.

Martin overcame any physical deficiencies with intangibles. He was smart and very durable. Martin also had longevity and was consistent, which are all key elements to get into the Hall of Fame. Martin put together 10 consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. In 2004, he became the oldest player to lead the NFL in rushing with 1,697 yards at age 31, when most running backs hit a wall. That season cemented Martin's legacy and made him a lock for Canton.

Martin is also on a very short list of Bill Parcells' favorite players. Parcells was notoriously demanding and difficult to play for. Yet, the Super Bowl-winning coach calls Martin one of the greatest players he’s ever coached. Parcells made it a point to have Martin on his team in both New England and New York. Naturally, Parcells will be Martin's presenter on Saturday during his enshrinement. The two would have it no other way.

Martin set a great example that the NFL is not all about draft status or pure athletic ability. Martin got the most out of himself every year, and it landed him in Canton.

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