Well-kept secret ex-Seattle defensive great a Who Dat

A pop quiz: Who is Cortez Kennedy?

Does the name ring a bell?

I’ll give you a hint.

He played in the NFL for 11 seasons, not with the Patriots or the Cowboys or the Giants or the Steelers.

He was tucked away, off-stage, in faraway Seattle, playing eight Pro Bowl seasons at defensive tackle for the Seahawks.

I bring this up because, later this week, when the Class of 2009 will be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Kennedy will be among the 17 names on the ballot, members of a group eligible to make the final cut and wind up with a bust in Canton, Ohio.

You talk to Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis about Kennedy and another name, Rickey Jackson, immediately comes up.

“Let’s face it,” Loomis said. “When you played for a team in a small market that has not won championships, there’s a built-in bias when it comes to the Hall of Fame. That’s why, when I think of Cortez and the Hall of Fame, I think of Rickey Jackson. Rickey should have been the first Saint voted into the Hall of Fame a while back. His negatives: small market and no championships.”

If Kennedy happens to make it, and he’s a long shot, Loomis will look on it as the next best thing to having a Saint in the Hall, and that’s because Kennedy has been a member of the Saints‘ family since he retired after the 2000 season.

Loomis was in the Seahawks‘ front office when Kennedy arrived in 1990 as Seattle’s first-round pick and, by the time Kennedy exited the game after the 2000 season, Loomis was working for Tom Benson, trying to recruit Kennedy to suit up for Jim Haslett’s Football team.

“Cortez still had some playing time left,” Loomis said, “but he had saved his money, done well financially, and he decided to put his days in shoulder pads behind him.”

But not completely.

A guy who grew up in Wilson, Ark., where he was Football famous enough to have Main Street renamed Cortez Kennedy Avenue, decided to become an “unofficial” assistant coach during training camp for Haslett, then for Sean Payton.

Benson watched Kennedy become, as he put it, “a great inspiration to the players, someone who gave good advice, who talked from experience, who was not only a great Football player but a solid citizen. He’s someone I enjoyed talking Football with and what you can do with your life after Football.”

You ask Kennedy what his message would be to players making the college-to-NFL jump, and it comes down to a question of focus.

“I tell kids coming in not to focus on what the veterans are doing but to concentrate on what they should be doing,” he said. “That it’s a business. Don’t think about partying, focus on Football. Don’t think about the big money you might be making. If it comes to friends, trust the ones you grew up with before you were making big money more than the ones you made after signing a big contract.”

Kennedy was the third player chosen in the 1990 draft, one of the slew of first-rounders produced by Miami (Fla.). Two years later, he was voted the NFL‘s Defensive Player of the Year despite playing for a 2-14 team, joining Lawrence Taylor of the Giants and Reggie White of the Eagles as the only players to win the award on a team with a losing record.

Loomis recalled a story in Kennedy’s rookie season, when the Seahawks were holding camp at a small college.

“I’m guessing Cortez was around 315 pounds at the time,” Loomis said. “He walks into the gym, picks up a basketball, and says: ‘You wanna see why they paid me all that money? I’ll show you.’ Just like that, he goes up and dunks. Incredible explosion.”

When the Saints played the Falcons in a historic Monday night game in 2006 celebrating the post-Katrina reopening of the Superdome, it was the day after the Seahawks placed Kennedy’s name in their Ring of Honor.

When Seattle owner Paul Allen showed up the next day as a guest in Tom Benson’s suite, he was surprised to see Kennedy.

“Cortez, what are you doing here?” he wanted to know.

The response? “I’m a Who Dat, Mr. Allen.”

Ask Kennedy about the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and he’s realistic.

“If it ever happens,” he said, “it would be extra special.”

Should the day come, he has decided on who will introduce him during the ceremony in Canton, Ohio.

It will be the widow of Robert Fraley, his longtime agent and best friend, who was also the agent of golfing great Payne Stewart, who perished alongside Stewart in the crash of a private jet in 1999.

“Her name is Dixie,” Kennedy said.

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