Seahawks Hall of Fame defensive lineman and legend Cortez Kennedy died at the age of 48 on Tuesday at his Orlando home, Orlando Police Department Public Information Officer Sgt. Wanda Miglio confirmed.
“We are conducting an investigation regarding his unattended passing,” Sgt. Miglio said.
Kennedy was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2012. He had 58 career sacks and was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1992, the second Seahawk to win the award (Kenny Easley, 1984). In that 1992 season he recorded 93 tackles, 14 sacks, five forced fumbles and had four fumble recoveries.
He played in 167 games for the Seahawks and started 153. He played in 116 consecutive games and set the team record with 100 starts in a row. He was named to the NFL All-Decade Team for the 1990s. Six years after he played his final game in 2000, Kennedy became the 10th Seahawk added to the team’s Ring of Honor.
Kennedy was the third-overall pick in the 1990 NFL draft and became one of the most disruptive — and popular —defensive players in the league. Despite double- and even triple-teams by opponents who still couldn’t block him, he was selected for eight Pro Bowls including a Seahawks record six in a row during his decade of dominance in Seattle.
In his 11 seasons, the Seahawks had only two winning season and one playoff game (a loss to Miami). But in 2013, Kennedy told The News Tribune that he never wanted to leave Seattle. “I like my comfort zone, “ he said. “I had a great time and had some great teammates. . . . We fought hard out there.”
Kennedy maintained a close relationship with the team after his retirement, regularly showing up during training camp and team headquarters. When the Seahawks won the Super Bowl 48, Kennedy watched from the press box.
“My heart hurts,” Seahawks offensive lineman Justin Britt tweeted. “We lost a truly great player but even better person.”
Kennedy was born in Wilson, a small Arkansas town, where he stood out on the football field despite a lacking worth ethic. The reputation followed him throughout his career. Former Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said shortly after he arrived in Seattle in 1999 that he and the coaches wanted Kennedy to spend more time lifting weights. “But it became very apparent that he plays hard, gets very serious about the game on Sunday,” Holmgren said. “You want guys just like him playing the game — just like he plays it.”
Former Seahawks coach Chuck Knox once threatened to fine him $100 per pound over his ideal playing weight of 303 pounds.
In 1999, Kennedy told The News Tribune, “I don’t like people seeing me work. I like working out when no one is around. I concentrate better.”
Kennedy also had a reputation for being friendly and likeable. Former Seahawks quarterback Warren Moon called him a “gentle giant.
Dennis Erickson coach Kennedy for four seasons in Seattle and to the 1989 college national championship at Miami and called him one of the best players he ever coached.
“The thing about Cortez is how good a human being he is away from the field,” Erickson once told The News Tribune. “He was always one of my favorite players.”
As a high school student, Kennedy’s mom pulled him out of football because of low grades and Kennedy aspired to career as a state trooper. Kennedy improved his grades and returned to football for his senior season. He wasn’t recruited by major colleges so he attended Northwest Mississippi Community College where he lived with his cousin, delivered pizza and played football well enough to catch the eye of then-Miami coach Jimmy Johnson.
Out of shape, Kennedy shared playing time in 1988 before winning the starting job in ‘89. That season he dominated the national championships game and became a coveted NFL prospect. He was the third defensive player selected in the 1990 draft. He was picked ahead of future Hall of Famers Junior Seau (fifth pick) and Emmitt Smith (17th).
He made the all-rookie team in 1990.
David Baker, president of the Hall of Fame, issued a statement Tuesday: “Cortez will be remembered not only for all his great achievements on the football field but how he handled himself off the field. He epitomized the many great values this game teaches which serves as inspiration to millions of fans. Although he left this earth far too soon, the Hall of Fame pledges to keep his legacy alive forever in Canton.”
By 11 a.m., Cortez Kennedy was trending on Twitter as fans and former players paid their respects.
Former Broncos quarterback John Elway said, “Really sad to lose a guy like Cortez Kennedy. A great personality, a great player & I enjoyed competing against him. Prayers to his family.”
Former Seahawk quarterback Jim Zorn tweeted, “In 1990 Seahawks draft Cortez Kennedy 3rd overall. Great career, great man. Now gone at 48. RIP Tez. ... ”