CANTON, Ohio — Cortez Kennedy played a part in Rivercrest’s 15-6 victory over Dollarway in the 1985 AAA state football championship game.
Rivercrest also played in the finals two years earlier, but he was missing in action. His mother pulled him off the team because he was not making good grades.
“My mom sent me a postcard saying, ‘Wishing you were here,’” Kennedy said Saturday night during his Pro Football Hall of Fame speech. “I tell you what, that was a turning point in my life, because you (to his mother) know how much I love football. But when you sent me that postcard, it said you wanted me there. You should have took me there, but I understand.”
Kennedy was enshrined along with Pine Bluff native Willie Roaf and four others into the Hall during a ceremony Saturday at Fawcett Stadium. Kennedy’s induction comes 12 years after his retirement from the Seattle Seahawks, for whom he played 11 seasons as a defensive tackle. He was born in Osceola and grew up in Wilson, where Rivercrest High School is located. He played two seasons at Northwest Mississippi Community College and then transferred to Miami (Fla.), where he helped the Hurricanes win a national championship in 1989.
Kennedy gave a Miami alumnus, Randy Shannon, much of the credit for developing him into one of the country’s top defensive linemen. Shannon later became the Hurricanes’ head coach.
“He stayed in my apartment during training camp and would train me the whole summer,” Kennedy said. “And Russell Maryland can attest to this. Randy Shannon slept on my floor at my apartment. I got up at 7 in the morning trying to get something to eat, and Randy said, ‘Cortez, get out of there!’ I was like, ‘Randy, do you ever go to sleep?’”
Drafted third overall by the Seahawks in 1990, Kennedy won the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award two seasons later when the team finished 2-14. He was selected to eight Pro Bowls and finished with 58 sacks, three interceptions and a touchdown for his career. Dixie Fraley Keller, the widow of Kennedy’s agent Robert Fraley, presented Kennedy and said his life has an exclamation mark with his induction.
“What I remember about Cortez playing was that he was big and bad,” she said.
Curtis Martin, Dermontti Dawson, Chris Doleman and Jack Butler also were inducted Saturday night. Martin, who played for the New England Patriots and New York Jets from 1995-2005, finished his career fourth all-time in the NFL in rushing.
Martin also had some fun at the expense of Kennedy and Roaf early in his speech, which turned emotional as he talked about his rough upbringing in Pittsburgh.
“I also want to thank Cortez Kennedy for speaking so long that God decided to turn the lights out,” Martin said as the stadium lights were turned off. Martin’s speech was longer.
He then asked Roaf to stand up and took a playful shot at him.
“This big dude, right here, imagine this guy is so big,” Martin said. “He said, ‘Hey, y’all, let’s go get some mani and pedis and go get a facial.’ I said, ‘What, man, what?’ … I’m sorry, Roaf, I said I was going to pick on you about that.”
Butler, the oldest inductee in the Class of 2012 at 84, played cornerback for the Steelers from 1951-59.
“I am thankful for my wife, my children, my grandchildren that are here to see this also. Heck, I’m thankful I’m here,” Butler said.
Dawson was a center for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1988-2000. Doleman spent most of his career (1985-99) with the Minnesota Vikings, starting as a defensive end and moving to linebacker.