SEATTLE (AP) -- When his small hometown in northeastern Arkansas came to Cortez Kennedy and asked the newest member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame if he would participate in a celebration to honor his latest football accomplishment, the soft-spoken defensive terror gave a brief answer that speaks to his simple nature.
"I've got a street named after me, I'm in the Arkansas Hall of Fame, I've got my jersey retired, everybody knows me in my hometown," Kennedy said.
The spotlight was never important to Kennedy. That's why being one of the most dominant defensive linemen of his time, yet playing in a remote location like Seattle and away from much of the national media attention, never bothered Kennedy.
He'll finally be forced to accept having all eyes on him on Saturday when Kennedy is inducted into the Hall of Fame, joining Steve Largent as the second player to be enshrined in Canton after spending his entire career with the Seahawks.
"I didn't want to go anywhere else. You know, I could have played for a couple other teams, but that Seahawks organization, ever since I was there until today, has just been outstanding," Kennedy said. "They treated me right and I know some of my teammates that played there, everybody likes to come back to Seattle. Like I said, players move around, I guess they get better contracts, but one thing I can say is that the Seahawks wanted me there."
There's good reason why Seattle never let Kennedy go. The No. 3 overall pick in the 1990 draft out of Miami was an eight-time Pro Bowl selection, a defensive player of the year and brought notoriety to an otherwise dreadful period in Seahawks history.
Kennedy experienced only minimal team success in his career with the Seahawks. His 1992 season, when Kennedy was the league's defensive player of the year, is made even more remarkable when you consider that his 14 sacks, 27 tackles for loss and 92 tackles came for a team that went 2-14. That remains the sixth-most sacks ever recorded by a defensive tackle in a single season since sacks became an official stat 30 years ago and he did it playing for a team that still holds the NFL record for the fewest points ever scored in a 16-game season.
"The tackles for loss, the sacks. Those are unbelievable," teammate Joe Nash said at the time. "You have to go through so many more people to make the play in the backfield."
What made Kennedy so difficult to stop was his low center of gravity, unexpected quickness and remarkable strength packaged in a 6-foot-1, 300-pound frame. If he was asked to hold the line on a running play, he would regularly eat up two or three potential blockers. But he could also rush the passer up the middle, a rarity for an interior defensive lineman. While 1992 was his best individual season, Kennedy recorded at least six sacks in six of his 11 seasons.
Kennedy credits Nash for helping him during his first couple of seasons, when he played amid expectations of greatness that defensive line coach Tommy Brasher placed on Kennedy every day in practice starting with his 1992 season.
"If I had a bad practice, probably on Fridays, that's the only time I have a bad practice, and boy, you're talking about coach Brasher chewing me out behind closed doors," Kennedy said. "I was like, `Coach, you don't have to worry about that, I don't want to get chewed out.' He was a great motivator and he kept everyone on the same page in the meeting room. I love coach."
Kennedy already has a stretch of U.S. Highway 61 near Wilson, Ark., named in his honor. He moved back to nearby Osceola after he retired from the Seahawks and completely immersed himself in the community.
"Some people that have become successful have gotten the attitude that they're too good to come back and that has not been the case with Cortez," close friend and Osceola Mayor Dickie Kennemore said in a phone interview. "When he came back he just melted right in with the local populous and it meant a lot to us."
Kennedy will be presented at the induction ceremony by Dixie Fraley Keller, the widow of his agent, Robert Fraley, who died in a plane crash that also claimed the life of golfer Payne Stewart in 1999. Kennedy said it was Fraley's guidance that helped teach him how to be a professional and he remained close with Keller after her husband's death.
"Four years ago when I had the opportunity the first time getting on the ballot, I always told Dixie, I want her to present me because of Robert. That's how much Robert meant to me," Kennedy said. "I'll be talking about Robert in my speech, too, the type of guy he helped me (become) off of the football field."