Cortez Kennedy awaiting the Hall’s call

Cortez Kennedy’s home resembles a museum devoted to his football

career.

His last Seattle Seahawks helmet is perched on a shelf, and his

Miami degree – the one he went back to finish at his own expense

after leaving school early for the NFL – is on the wall, not far

from photos of him posing with two U.S. Presidents. There’s a

street sign bearing his name from his hometown, framed letters from

giants of sport, palm trees around the pool, unbelievable

golf-course views and just about anything else he would want.

Some days, his biggest dilemma is deciding whether to catch the

afternoon flight from Florida back home to Arkansas for a quick

deer hunting trip.

His life is happy, full, complete. Well, almost complete.

”People always ask me, `Do you think you should be in the Hall

of Fame?”’ Kennedy said, sitting in the office of his home near

Orlando. ”I always say yes.”

On Saturday, he’ll find out if others agree.

For the fourth time, Kennedy is a finalist for enshrinement in

the Pro Football Hall of Fame. This year’s class will be decided

Saturday, on the eve of the Super Bowl in Indianapolis. He would be

the 14th defensive tackle to be chosen, and his numbers – eight Pro

Bowls, three All-Pro nods – compare with others who have gotten the

Hall’s call.

”I can honestly tell you, if getting in the Hall of Fame is my

biggest worry, then I’m doing OK,” Kennedy said. ”So I guess I’m

doing OK.”

He was the league’s defensive player of the year in 1992 – for a

team that won two games. He made 58 sacks, went through his first

seven seasons without missing a single game, played in at least 15

games 10 times in his 11 seasons, and turned down some fairly

lucrative contracts at the end of his career so he could retire

saying he only played for one NFL team.

”I say this all the time,” said his former Miami Hurricanes

teammate and longtime friend, Randy Shannon. ”People, fans, people

around him, they always liked him because he’s a likable guy, but

they will never know how good a player Cortez Kennedy was. Never.

But in that locker room, we knew. He’d do anything it took on the

field to win and be an example, did it in high school that way,

college, Seattle. That was Cortez. No doubt, one of the best.

Ever.”

Today, Kennedy is enjoying the spoils that came with what he did

on the field.

He’s still a fan favorite in Seattle, and spends a good chunk of

time during the season around the New Orleans Saints, for whom some

of his closest friends and confidants work. His home is in a

well-to-do community, with neighbors including U.S. Sen. Bill

Nelson, golfer Ian Poulter and famed football coach Lou Holtz –

someone who Kennedy tormented during the height of the Miami-Notre

Dame rivalry.

Holtz got over it, apparently: He wrote the letter suggesting

that Kennedy should be approved to move into the gated community he

now calls home.

On one recent afternoon, Kennedy got into his golf cart – he

rarely golfs – and zipped around the development. A bowl of soup at

the clubhouse. Chatting with some neighbors after they putted out

on the first green. Saw a young girl near the tennis courts and

asked her why he hadn’t seen her parents around in a couple days.

He couldn’t drive 100 feet, it seemed, without someone taking

notice.

”People are so nice,” Kennedy said. ”Always have been. You be

nice to them, they’re nice to you.”

He chose to live in Orlando for two reasons: His past, and his

daughter’s future.

First, the past. Kennedy became smitten with the Orlando area

while training there during his playing days. His agent, Robert

Fraley – who died in a 1999 plane crash that also killed golfer

Payne Stewart – lived there, and Kennedy thought the place was

perfect. To this day, Kennedy speaks with reverence about Fraley.

Months after Fraley died, Kennedy played his first NFL playoff game

and gave his bonus to charity in memory of Fraley and Jerome Brown,

another close friend from their time together with the

Hurricanes.

”I always wanted to be like Robert,” Kennedy said. ”Robert

taught me things I still use today in my life.”

Next, the future. Kennedy has custody of his 16-year-old

daughter Courtney, a high school junior and a standout athlete in

track and basketball. Even when one or the other is traveling, they

usually talk several times a day. She asked for a car when she got

her license, so a Cadillac Escalade with personalized plates

arrived in the driveway.

The way Kennedy saw it, the gift was far from exuberant.

”It was safe,” he said.

He is still a mountain of a man, though in very good shape.

Weight almost ended his football career at Miami, before Shannon –

his former roommate – would literally guard the refrigerator to

keep him out of it at night, then would wake him up early the next

day for training runs while wearing a black garbage bag to create

even more sweat and heat. A 90-minute walk is part of his regular

regimen. He is quiet, soft-spoken, thoughtful. He’s saved his

money, envisions a return to the NFL in some capacity someday,

probably after Courtney starts college.

”I wouldn’t trade this for the world,” Kennedy said.

If this Saturday is going to go like the past three pre-Super

Bowl-Saturdays have, here’s a peek at how things will be around

Kennedy this time while waiting for the Hall’s deciders to make

their choices: His daughter will be nervous and pacing all day. His

friends will be waiting in the nearby Lake Nona clubhouse, most

watching television for the announcement. Kennedy will not stray

too far from the phone, just in case.

He wants to hear it ring. Badly.

”I do want to get in, one day,” Kennedy said. ”Once you get

the call, then you work on your speech. So I won’t worry about the

speech until I get the call.”

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