Cortez Kennedy was a hulking force at defensive tackle, the cornerstone of a franchise that had little to cheer about for most of his playing career.
And yet what Kennedy accomplished as a player with the Seattle Seahawks — which was good enough for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame — was secondary to the affable personality that made him a revered figure long after his career ended.
Police in Orlando, Florida, said the 48-year-old Kennedy was found dead Tuesday morning. Orlando Police Department public information officer Wanda Miglio said the circumstances surrounding his death are still unknown but that there is nothing suspicious about it. An investigation is being conducted.
"The full story lies in his loving, fun, positive and giving heart," said New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis, who worked for the Seahawks during Kennedy's playing career. "In my many years working in the NFL, no one better exemplified what it meant to be a great player on the field, and yet that paled in comparison to what Cortez meant to the people who knew him off the field."
A star who spent his entire 11-year NFL career in relative obscurity playing in Seattle, Kennedy became the second Seahawks player inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012. He was an unmovable wall as a dominant defensive tackle, and a quiet, gentle soul away from the field never interested in finding himself in the spotlight.
"Cortez Kennedy has been a pillar of the Seahawks franchise since joining the team as a rookie in 1990," the Seahawks said in a statement. "Tez was the heart and soul of the Seahawks through the 1990s and endeared himself to 12s all across the Pacific Northwest as a player who played with a selfless and relentless approach to the game. ... We are proud to have been represented by such a special person."
Kennedy was the No. 3 overall pick in the 1990 draft out of Miami and Seattle smartly never let him leave. He brought notoriety to an otherwise dreadful period in Seahawks history as an eight-time Pro Bowler and was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1992.
For many seasons of his career, Kennedy was the reason the Seahawks were relevant.
"Really sad to lose a guy like Cortez Kennedy," Broncos' general manager John Elway tweeted . Elway was chased around by Kennedy twice a year for much of the 1990s as competitors in the AFC West. "A great personality, a great player and I enjoyed competing against him."
Even though he last played for the Seahawks in 2000, he remained a significant part of the organization. He was a mainstay around the team during training camp and would occasionally roll through the locker room during the regular season grabbing a few minutes with anyone — players, coaches, media — up for a chat.
That personality was evident nearly 30 years ago when Dennis Erickson first met Kennedy at Miami. At the time, Erickson was taking over for Jimmy Johnson with the Hurricanes and inherited a player that was just coming into his own after transferring from Northwest Mississippi Community College. In Erickson's first year with the Hurricanes — and Kennedy's last — Miami won the national title and Kennedy was a second-team AP All-America selection.
Erickson saw that personality again in 1995 when he became the head coach of the Seahawks and Kennedy was his star player.
"He always had a smile on his face. There was no arrogance about him at all. Not at all," Erickson said. "He wouldn't think he was as good as he was. ... He was just a great young man. He was one of the closest guys I've been around in coaching. I was close with his family and he was close with my family and we kept in touch all these years. It's hard to describe him. They don't make them like him anymore."
After his playing career ended, Kennedy briefly worked for Loomis as an adviser with the Saints and was an ambassador for the Seahawks. He was scheduled to be in Seattle on Thursday as part of an event for the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games.
"Cortez will be remembered not only for all his great achievements on the football field but how he handled himself off the field," Pro Football Hall of Fame President David Baker said. "He epitomized the many great values this game teaches which serves as inspiration to millions of fans."
Current Seattle players including Kam Chancellor , Earl Thomas and Jimmy Graham who came to know Kennedy from his locker room chats took to social media to express their shock and sadness at the loss of a mentor.
Kennedy experienced only minimal team success in his career with the Seahawks. His 1992 season, when Kennedy was the league's defensive player of the year, was made even more remarkable by the fact that his 14 sacks, 27 tackles for loss and 92 tackles came for a team that went 2-14 and was among the worst ever offensively in a 16-game season.
What made Kennedy so difficult to stop was his low center of gravity, unexpected quickness and remarkable strength packaged in a 6-foot-1, 300-pound frame.
"Out of the blue I would get a call from him and he'd laugh and that's how he was. Or he'd leave me a message, 'Am I still your favorite player?'" Erickson said. "He was like that all the time."
AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner and Associated Press Writer Terrence Harris contributed.
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