Game Day: ...the '84 team landed seven players in the Pro Bowl
Statistics: Season Summaries and amazing honors
What We've Overheard: "He can make plays like nobody can." -- Seattle coach Chuck Knox
What You Say: "Kenny Easley was the best Free-Safety that I've ever seen! He was a magnificient blend of aggression & finesse!"
Ring of Honor:
"From the time Kenny came into the league, he was one of the top one or two safeties in the league. He came in with a splash, and he brought the whole package." -- Nolan Cromwell
The Way it Was:
KENNY Easley, the finest defensive player to wear a Seattle Seahawks uniform, has faced more adversity than his 31 years deserve. If his kidney had not betrayed him, he'd surely still be the Pro Bowl safety he so often was.
Ring of Honor
Seahawks/NFL: Easley's honor long overdue
By CLARE FARNSWORTH
CHENEY -- It was 1981, but it somehow feels like only yesterday.
Nolan Cromwell was one of the premier safeties in the National Football League. Marcus Robertson was growing up and would become a professional football player. Jim Zorn was perfecting the art of tomfoolery as the left-handed quarterback of a fledgling team called the Seahawks.
Then something happened that would change their lives, and the way the safety position was played.
The Seahawks drafted Kenny Easley out of UCLA.
Cromwell, Robertson and Zorn had front-row seats for what was to follow -- Cromwell as a member of the Los Angeles Rams and Robertson as a 12-year-old wannabe in Pasadena, Calif.; Zorn as a teammate.
"From the time Kenny came into the league, he was one of the top one or two safeties in the league," said Cromwell, now the wide receivers coach for the Seahawks.
"He came in with a splash, and he brought the whole package."
The impact of the wave Easley created reached all the way to Robertson's bedroom in Southern California.
"I had a poster of him and (former Cleveland Browns safety) Don Rogers on my door when I was growing up," Robertson, the Seahawks free safety, said yesterday after practice at the team's training camp. "Kenny and Ronnie Lott just brought a lot more recognition to the safety position and it was a position that I've always wanted to play since Pop Warner.
"They're the safeties I wish I had game just as good as."
Easley was so good that he was named AFC defensive rookie of the year in 1981, NFL defensive player of the year in 1984 and voted to the Pro Bowl five times in his seven-year career. In '84, he had a club-record 10 interceptions. As a strong safety.
"Kenny was a tremendous player from Day One," said Zorn, now the Seahawks' quarterbacks coach. "He was just dominant."
Easley's circle of excellence will be completed Oct. 14, when he is inducted into the Seahawks Ring of Honor during halftime ceremonies of their game against the San Francisco 49ers -- Lott's old team.
It is apropos that the announcement came this week while the team is in Cheney. It is here that Easley's legend and legacy grew by leaps and bounds.
While out on early morning jogs, reporters would see Easley racing back from having played 18 holes of golf to get ready for the 8:45 a.m. practice on time.
After each practice, Easley would jog to the 4-foot fence that surrounds the practice fields and bound over it. Not hurdle. Not jump and place one hand on the fence to boost himself over. But stop flat-footed and hop, a la Jack Be Nimble.
Oh, and he did it in full pads.
That's the kind of athlete Easley was. He made the difficult look simple, and simply overpowered anything easy.
"We used to watch film of other teams that were playing the Seahawks," Cromwell said. "I was supposed to be watching the other team's offense, but a lot of times you found yourself going, 'Wow, look at this. Run it back. Look at this hit.'"
Easley played with the force of a linebacker, the speed of a cornerback and a nasty streak that elevated his game into another dimension.
"I remember Kenny describing how he inflicts pain on people catching the ball in front of him," Zorn said, now able to laugh about it. "To get the guy thinking about him the next time, he would hold his thumbs in his fists and jam his knuckles into the guy's rib cage.
"I thought, 'All right, nice technique.'"
As Cromwell put it, "Kenny would break you in half if he had the chance."
Unfortunately, Easley's departure from the Seahawks was an ugly and painful affair.
After the strike-interrupted 1987 season, when Easley served as the spokesman for the striking players, he was traded to the Arizona Cardinals as part of a package that brought quarterback Kelly Stouffer to the Seahawks. When a kidney ailment was detected in Easley's physical with the Cardinals, the trade was momentarily voided until the Seahawks threw in an extra fifth-round draft choice.
The blow to his ego was nothing compared to what followed. A kidney transplant for Easley. A lawsuit for the club.
It created warts on his path to the Ring of Honor that have taken 15 years to smooth.
"Time heals all wounds," is the way Easley put it last November, when he was at the Seahawks game against the Redskins in Washington.
He is right. It is time for Easley to join Steve Largent, Zorn, Dave Brown, Pete Gross, Curt Warner and Jacob Green in the Ring of Honor. He not only belongs there, his induction will allow others to be honored -- Cortez Kennedy, Chuck Knox, Dave Krieg and the Nordstrom family.
Regardless of how Easley left town, he deserves to return to a standing ovation and a sea of retro No. 45 jerseys as the Seahawks host a "Monday Night Football" game for the first time since 1992.
"Kenny is definitely deserving of the Ring of Honor," Robertson said. "And for that matter, possibly even the Hall of Fame."
One hurdle at a time, Marcus. One hurdle at a time.
Monday, October 14, 2002
By CLARE FARNSWORTH
Tonight will be a time for remembering Kenny Easley.
Twenty-one years after the Seahawks made the former UCLA strong safety the fourth pick in the NFL draft; 18 years after Easley was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year; 15 years after he served as the team's union representative during the 1987 players' strike and played in the last of his five Pro Bowls; and 14 years after his trade to the then- Phoenix Cardinals that was aborted when his career-ending kidney ailment was detected, Easley will be inducted into the Seahawks Ring of Honor.
That's why it is fitting that this overdue honor should come at halftime of the Seahawks' game against the San Francisco 49ers -- at the team's new stadium and during the first "Monday Night Football" game in Seattle since 1992.
It has taken all these years, and rivers of bad blood passing under rebuilt bridges, to get this done.
It is time to forget how Easley departed Seattle -- he underwent a kidney transplant and subsequently sued the team -- and remember how much he means to this city and this franchise, which has had only three winning seasons and one playoff appearance since he left.
No one who ever saw him make one of his acrobatic interceptions or level a receiver who dared venture across the middle can argue against Easley belonging in the Ring of Honor -- alongside Steve Largent (inducted in 1989), Jim Zorn (1991), Dave Brown (1992), Pete Gross (1992), Curt Warner (1994) and Jacob Green (1995).
But what about the Pro Football Hall of Fame? It's the logical next step for a player of Easley's ability and productivity -- 32 career interceptions, including a club record-tying and AFC-leading 10 in 1984.
Whether that ever happens depends on whom you ask.
The P-I put that question to a dozen coaches, players, former players, front-office execs, scouts and members of the Hall of Fall selection committee.
The results: "Yeah" 7, "Nah" 5.
Problem No. 1: Three of the "nah" votes came from the three selection committee members polled.
Problem No. 2: Even some who voted "yeah" pointed to the fact Easley played only seven seasons.
"If he had played longer, there's no doubt Kenny already would be in the Hall of Fame," said Nesby Glasgow, a former safety for the Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts and Seahawks who is now the team's director of player programs.
Gale Sayers played only seven seasons (1965-71) with the Chicago Bears. Jim Brown played only nine (1957-65) with the Cleveland Browns. Each is in the Hall, because they put up numbers that made it impossible to ignore them.
It is much more difficult to measure the impact of a safety on the game, even one whose game was based on impacts.
Then there's the position. Of the 216 enshrinees, just six are true or "only" safeties -- Jack Christiansen, Ken Houston, Paul Krause, Emlen Tunnell, Larry Wilson and Willie Wood. Ronnie Lott and Mel Renfro were cornerbacks who moved to safety. Yale Lary led the league in punting three times and also returned punts.
One member of the selection committee said there is a bias among others in the group against the safety position, because they play too far from the line of scrimmage.
Hey, I didn't say it, I'm only repeating what was said.
But those are the kinds of roadblocks in Easley's path to Canton, Ohio.
The main thing Easley has going for him in this debate is the way he played the game, which was like no one had played the strong safety position before. He was fearless, aggressive and, at times, careless -- but only because he was trying so hard to make something happen. He covered like a cornerback, hit like a linebacker and flowed to the ball like a tsunami.
"We used to watch film of other teams that were playing the Seahawks," said Seahawks wide receivers coach Nolan Cromwell, who was one of the premier safeties in the league when Easley entered the picture. "I was supposed to be watching the other team's offense, but a lot of times you found yourself going, 'Wow, look at this. Run it back. Look at this hit.' "
Easley altered the way his position was played, which forced opponents to come up with ways to defuse his explosive presence. Former Redskins coach Joe Gibbs tried to take Easley as far out of plays as possible by flanking his tight end almost to the sideline. Gibbs first did it in 1983 at the Kingdome. It didn't take long for others to expand on the idea.
"Kenny is the first strong safety where I remember teams scheming to try to take him out of the game," Cromwell said. "(The Seahawks) did a lot of things with him, as far as blitzing like a linebacker and bringing him off the edges.
"So he kind of set the standard. He was unbelievable, at anything he wanted to do."
So unbelievable that Lott, widely recognized as the best safety in league history, corrects anyone who makes that claim by pointing out that for a few seasons in the early- and mid-'80s, no one ever played the position better than Easley.
I don't vote for the Hall of Fame.
If I did, No. 45 would get my vote because he earned it, and deserves it.
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