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'Remarkable' On And Off The Field: Remembering Seahawks Legend Cortez Kennedy

The investigation continues into the death of Seahawks legend and Hall of Famer Cortez Kennedy.

His sudden passing this week has his former teammates, fans and KNKX sports commentator Art Thiel talking about the legacy of the man who was larger than life. Art spoke with 88.5’s Kirsten Kendrick.

Kennedy 'Astonished People'

"Cortez was a remarkable dude on the field," Thiel said.

"And it was even more amazing because, as he himself admitted on his draft day when he was the third pick in the 1990 draft out of the University of Miami as a defensive tackle, he said, 'Well, I might be the fattest guy in the draft but I'm a hell of a player!'

"And both were true! But he was so quick and so strong and he moved that big body in ways that astonished people.

"In fact, Bill Walsh, the 49ers coach in their Super Bowl era who was a television commentator upon his retirement, made the remark at one time, 'I don't know how a guy with that kind of body makes those kinds of plays.'

"He was just so effective that from 1990 to 2000 when he retired, he was the best player on the team."

At His Best When Team At Its Worst

Thiel noted that Kennedy won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award in 1992, even though the Seahawks were 2-14 that year.

"That really eliminates most players from any sort national recognition," he said. "But he had 14 sacks that year — his most dominant play.

"And he did it in a market that, back then, had nothing but defeat and very few playoff appearances. In fact, Cortez Kennedy played in one playoff game in his Seahawks career."

A 'Delight' To Be Around

As remarkable as he was on the field, Thiel said Kennedy was just as remarkable off the field.

"To me, he had this sort of small-town, southern charisma. He was warm, affable, gregarious, funny.

"Everyone just gravitated to him because he was the same way with the cafeteria workers, the security people, the assistant trainers, media.

"He was just ingratiating and humble in everyone's presence. And he always had something funny to say.

"Or he'd see you from across the room. I remember being in the CenturyLink press box, talking to some people, and Tez walked up behind me and I could hear him, 'Art! Art!'

"And I'd turn around and we'd, you know, embrace. I mean, we weren't friends but we did have a courteous, professional relationship.

"He came up to me once when I was sitting there, grabbed both of my shoulders, and I didn't have to look around. I knew it was Tez because he was crushing both of my shoulders as he did it," Thiel said, laughing.

"It was really a delight to be around him. Every time he walked into a room, everybody started smiling."

Act Of Defiance Endeared Kennedy To Fans

While there certainly a lot of big plays that are part of Kennedy's legacy, Thiel remembered one action off the field that still sticks in his mind today.

"What I do remember most is the time in 1996 when the Seahawks franchise reached its nadir under owner Ken Behring, a real estate mogul from Livermore, Calif.

"He tried to move the Seahawks to Southern California in 1996. And for two weeks, he had all the equipment and everything moved to Southern California.

"The NFL was outraged. Fans were outraged. And Cortez Kennedy was outraged. He said, 'I'm not gonna go.'

"And that was a huge emotional pickup for the fan base here. Everyone here remembers that and it further endeared him.

"The team president was Dave Behring, the son of the owner, and he called Cortez Kennedy fat, overrated and lazy.

"But, you know what? Cortez Kennedy was so forgiving that he used to visit Dave Behring after Tez was retired and Behring was retired and out of football.

"He was able to forgive and talk about good times. An altogether remarkable human being."

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You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest and

Kirsten Kendrick hosts Morning Edition on KNKX and the sports interview series "Going Deep," talking with folks tied to sports in our region about what drives them — as professionals and people.
Art Thiel is a co-founder and writer for the rising sports website Sportspress Northwest. In 2003 Thiel wrote the definitive book about the Seattle Mariners, “Out of Left Field,” which became a regional bestseller. In 2009, along with Steve Rudman and KJR 950 afternoon host Mike Gastineau, Thiel authored “The Great Book of Seattle Sports Lists,” a cross between and Mad Magazine that has become mandatory reading for any sports fan who has an indoor bathroom.