Few people knew Cortez Kennedy, the Pro Football Hall of Famer who died at age 48 on Tuesday, better than Dennis Erickson, who coached Kennedy at the University of Miami and the Seattle Seahawks.
From right after Kennedy’s 1989 All-American season when he led the Hurricanes to a national championship until shortly before his death, he would frequently call Erickson with the same query.
“Am I still the best that ever played for you?” Kennedy would ask, often in a voicemail.
Erickson always replied in the affirmative.
Kennedy was a dominant defensive tackle and is one of three Seahawks to have his number retired, having never played anywhere else during his 11 years in the NFL (1990-2000). The team released a statement on Tuesday that called Kennedy the “heart and soul” of the team and a “pillar of the Seahawks franchise.”
He became the team’s full-time starter in his second season and started 153 of 167 games in his career. He set a team record by starting 100 consecutive games from 1990-97.
On Tuesday morning the Orlando (Florida) Police Department confirmed Kennedy’s death, telling The Seattle Times that there was nothing suspicious about his death.
“He hadn’t been sick from what I knew, so it’s a shocking thing to wake up to,” Erickson said.
Erickson arrived at Miami in 1989 after two years coaching the Washington State Cougars. He got there in time for Kennedy’s senior year, although he did not know then what that meant.
Kennedy was a junior college transfer who did not play much his first year in Coral Gables. Erickson didn’t expect immediate success from him.
“He came into my office and he was out of shape,” Erickson said. “We talked and he told me he was going to be the next Jerome Brown. He idolized Jerome Brown. So he lost weight and that spring of his senior year through his whole career he was just a dominant football player.”
Erickson said he quickly knew what kind of player he had in Kennedy.
“The first snap he ever took in practice, when he blew a guard 2 yards backward,” Erickson said.
Kennedy was an ambassador for the Seahawks long after he retired and was regarded for his good nature and compassion as well as his exploits on the field.
“He was such a happy-go-lucky guy,” Erickson said. “He had no arrogance whatsoever, which is unusual. He just treated everybody extremely well. I’ve been around a lot of them in my day, and there aren’t much better than him.”