Cortez Kennedy had one of the best seasons in franchise history

In the Seattle Seahawks’ worst season, defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy had one of the best seasons in franchise history and was named NFL defensive player of the year on a 2-14 team.

In his third NFL season, Kennedy was voted the league’s defensive player of the year after posting career highs in tackles (92), sacks (14) and tackles for losses (a still-club record 28) – and missing only two tackles. The dominating defensive tackle, and team’s first-round draft choice in 1990, was voted to the first of what would become eight Pro Bowl berths. When it came time for the All-Pro balloting, no defensive player in the league got more votes than Kennedy.

“I tell people all the time that Cortez Kennedy was probably the best football player I ever played with,” said former teammate and cornerback Shawn Springs, who did not join the Seahawks until 1997.

“And I’ve played with some great football players. But Tez was just incredible.”

Record: 2-14 (fifth in AFC West)

Owner: Ken Behring

Coach: Tom Flores

Captains: FB John L. Williams (off.), FS Eugene Robinson (def.), TE James Jones (ST)

MVP: Kennedy

Man of the Year: Robinson

Largent Award: DE Jeff Bryant, DT Joe Nash

Leading passer: Stan Gelbaugh (121 of 255 for 1,307 yards, with 6 TDs and 11 interceptions)

Leading rusher: Chris Warren (1,017 yards)

Leading receiver: Williams (74 receptions for 556 yards)

Leading tackler: Robinson (94)

Special teams tackles: FB Tracy Johnson (18)

Interception leader: Robinson (7)

Sack leader: Kennedy (14)

Leading scorer: K John Kasay (56 points)

Pro Bowl selections: Kennedy, Robinson

All-Pro: Kennedy (first team)

National honors: Kennedy, NFL defensive player of the year

Never more so than in ’92, when he was an unforgettable player on an easy-to-forget team. Kennedy didn’t always look the part, but he definitely played it.

“If you look at his body, you’d think he was an ad campaign for obesity,” Springs added recently, punctuating the statement with a laugh. “But, he just was such a good football player. You could hear Tez before the snap, ‘Hey, they’re coming this way.’ He just recognized things well, and quickly. He was also quick off the ball. He did everything right. He had great footwork. He was so disruptive.”

A side note to this success-while-surrounded-by-frustration story was the fact that Kennedy played the ’92 season wearing No. 99 – not his usual 96 – as tribute to Jerome Brown, his close friend who died in an auto accident June 25, 1992. Brown, also a defensive tackle, had worn No. 99 for the Philadelphia Eagles. He and Kennedy had been teammates at the University of Miami.

“I had to change to 99 because I know he’d want it,” Kennedy said in July of that year. “And I’ll have to play well because I know he doesn’t want me to embarrass him. I’ll miss the number (96), but not as much as I’ll miss Jerome. I’d rather wear 99 for him and for both of us.”

Kennedy, as it turned out, did not embarrass Brown by making enough plays for two players.

“Well, what could I say about Cortez?” Tom Flores, the coach of the ’92 season, offered recently. “He’s one of my favorite guys of all time. As a player, I thought he was a complete player. He had speed, size, agility, and he had a natural gift for making plays.”

And make plays Kennedy did. He sacked quarterbacks from Los Angeles (Jay Schroeder) to New England (Hugh Millen); Pittsburgh (Neil O’Donnell) to Denver (John Elway). He sacked a quarterback whose bust would end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Troy Aikman) and one who was just a bust (Todd Marinovich). He sacked a former University of Washington Husky (Millen) and a former Seahawk (Dave Krieg, who was playing for the Chiefs). He even sacked the supposedly unsackable (Randall Cunningham) – twice in one game.

The Tom Catlin/Rusty Tillman-coordinated defense fed off Kennedy’s sack lunches, as the Seahawks tied for 10th in the league by allowing an average of 286.4 yards per game. Free safety Eugene Robinson led the team in tackles (94) and interceptions (seven), and he joined Kennedy on the AFC Pro Bowl squad. Linebacker/rush-end Rufus Porter had 9½ sacks among his 90 tackles. The Seahawks allowed more than 20 points in a game just six times, and held opponents to 17 or fewer five times.

But the defense also lost end Jacob Green, the franchise’s all-time sack leader, when he was released at midseason. Green, who had been on injured reserve because of a bad knee, left the same way he always played it: With class.

“Let me make one thing clear: I didn’t quit on this team,” Green said at the time. “I didn’t say, ‘Let me out of here because we’re a loser.’ Right now, we’re in the tank and that’s the bottom line. It was tough for me to be on the sidelines and watch it, not be a part of it. When they hurt, I hurt.”

Despite the stout showing by the defense, the Seahawks managed to win only two games – 10-6 over the Patriots in New England in Week 3 and 10-6 in overtime against the Denver Broncos at the Kingdome in Week 13.

That “Monday Night Football” matchup against the Broncos also was notable because longtime radio announcer Pete Gross was inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor in an emotional pregame ceremony. Gross would die 52 hours later of complications from his four-year battle with cancer.

That Week 3 win at New England impacted the franchise for seasons to come, because it gave the 1-15 Patriots to the first pick in the 1993 draft. The Patriots selected Washington State quarterback Drew Bledsoe, while the Seahawks took Notre Dame quarterback Rick Mirer with the second pick.

Speaking of quarterbacks and offense, the Seahawks were too often speechless in ’92. They scored 140 points – the fewest in league history in a 16-game season – and averaged 210.9 yards per game. They had a TD drought at midseason that reached 14 quarters, 50 possessions, 216 plays and 223 minutes before wide receiver Tommy Kane caught a scoring pass in the third quarter of a 23-10 loss to the Giants at the Meadowlands.

The season-long problem was obvious: A lack of talent on the offensive side of the ball.

Sure, Chris Warren ran for 1,017 yards – making him the second 1,000-yard rusher in franchise history – and fullback John L. Williams caught a team-high 74 passes. But quarterback Stan Gelbaugh threw almost twice as many interceptions (11) as TD passes (6), and Kelly Stouffer’s ratio was 3-to-1 (nine interceptions, three TD passes).

The best indication of what was wrong with the offense is the fact that the Seahawks started four players in ’92 who were not even in the league the next season: Stouffer (seven games), Kane, wide receiver Louis Clark and tight end Ron Heller.

The beneficiary of this offensive futility was Rick Tuten, who punted 108 times for 4,760 yards – or 2.7 miles.

“What do I remember about the 1992 season?” Tuten cracked recently. “My leg got tired.”

As did losing.

Following the season-ending loss to the Chargers, who rallied for 18 points in the final five minutes against the Seahawks’ finally exhausted defense, Flores offered, “It’s like waking up from a nightmare. There’s a little bit of a relief there, like realizing that it was just a dream. But this wasn’t a dream. This was reality.”