Cortez Kennedy leaves a legacy that ‘was never about Cortez the football player’
Somber day in the NFL. Not a lot of people around the league were tight with Hall of Fame defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy, the 1992 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. (Defensive player of the year awards: Kennedy one, Deion Sanders one, Champ Bailey zero, Julius Peppers zero.) Kennedy was closer to the security guys, the video guys, the neighbors on his block — some of whom didn’t know he was a football player.
When former Seahawks contract negotiator Mickey Loomis — who did the big deals with Kennedy’s agent for the nine-time all-pro player — was let go during a change in ownership late in Kennedy’s Seattle tenure two decades ago, the first call Loomis got was from Kennedy, wishing him well, asking if he could do anything. And when Loomis got the front-office job in New Orleans in 2000, he stayed in close touch. When Kennedy’s Seattle career ended, Loomis called, offering a one-year deal in New Orleans. “I can’t do it,” Kennedy said. “I can’t do that to Seattle. I want to say I played my whole career with Seattle.”
Kennedy died of undetermined causes in Florida on Tuesday at 48. He hadn’t been feeling well, but the cause of death has not been determined.
Loomis still was broken up Tuesday evening. Kennedy became such a close friend that the Saints became his adopted team. He knew all the Superdome staff and all the behind-the-scenes people at the Saints’ training facility. He loved Loomis’ family. Sometimes, unannounced, he’d come to town just because he missed the Loomises, and he’d sleep on their couch. Loomis has twin 6-year-old kids, and when they visited Orlando to see Kennedy a year or so ago, they burst past security for a hug with Kennedy, screaming, “UNCLE TEZ!”
Kennedy was the godfather of one of the twins, Lucy. Loomis and his wife gave the other twin this name: Samuel Cortez Loomis. Not because Loomis wanted to say, See? I’m tight with a Hall of Fame player! But because he wanted his kids to grow up with the influence of a selfless and loving person in their lives. Mickey Loomis wanted them to know that their parents chose Kennedy as a model for them. This is how you treat people, they were told.
“I don’t know how I’m going to tell them,” a broken Loomis said.
“He is a member of our family,” Loomis said. “They say only the good die young. That’s certainly the case here. When I used to negotiate contracts with his agent, you know you can’t get close to players. You try to be friendly with players, but not friends. With Cortez, I just couldn’t help myself. You’d be around him, and you’d notice how he was friendly with everyone. All races, all nationalities, all religions, all kinds of people. I mean, later, you’d see him rooting for the European Ryder Cup team, and you learned he’d met those guys and got to know them. Of course he was going to root for them — they were his friends.
“It was never about Cortez Kennedy the football player. It was always about Cortez the human being. I can tell you, the way he treated every person he came in contact with … if he was in charge of race relations in this country, we wouldn’t have any of the issues we’re having. He loved everybody.”
But Kennedy the football player was impressive enough. Awards are often (always?) skewed to players on winning teams. But in 1992, on the Seattle team tied for the worst record in football (2-14), Kennedy, a 24-year-old three-technique defensive tackle, knifed his way through lines for 14 sacks. Bruce Smith and Reggie White, edge rushers in prime seasons, tied Kennedy with 14 sacks that year. That’s extreme for even the greatest defensive tackles, 14 sacks in a year. His 11 seasons in Seattle made enough of an impact that he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012.
From then, Kennedy became a Saints adviser because of his closeness with Loomis. More emotion poured out of his adopted team, the Saints, than either his college (Miami) or pro team in Seattle — and that’s no negative reflection on either of those places. New Orleans players, front office and fans loved Kennedy. Often, in postgame locker rooms in the Saints’ glory runs a few years ago, there would be Kennedy, talking to writers or equipment guys or coaches or players. “He loved people, and he hated to be alone,” Loomis said. Rarely he was. Loomis’ family, and his team families, were the beneficiaries.