SEATTLE — For more than a decade, the Pro Football Hall of Fame wasn’t a consideration for Kenny Easley.
He was interested in anything regarding football.
“I didn’t watch an NFL football game, college football game, high school football game, for 15 years basically,” Easley said. “I didn’t watch a football game until the night that I was inducted into the Seahawks Ring of Honor. (That) was the first football game I had watched in 15 years.”
The day that Easley reconciled with the Seahawks happened in 2002 and began another lengthy quest that finally landed the hard-hitting All-Pro safety a spot in the Hall of Fame. Easley will be the fourth Seattle Seahawks player inducted, going into Canton on Saturday as this year’s senior candidate after never being in serious consideration during his time as a modern-day contender. Easley will join Steve Largent, Walter Jones and Cortez Kennedy.
Thirty years after Easley walked away from football due to health issues that were the source of his disillusionment with the game, he is embracing the recognition he is finally receiving. He even dreamt of the induction the night before he found out he was bound for Canton.
“The dream was so vivid that it was almost like I was already in the Hall of Fame and it was just a formality for the knock to come at the door. … It’s a great honor and that dream just sort of made it feel like it was meant to be,” Easley recalled.
Easley’s disenchantment from football has many parts. He had an ugly divorce from the Seahawks after the 1987 season, in part because of a kidney ailment that shortened his NFL career. He was traded to the Cardinals and failed his physical. He would never play another down and believes the large doses of painkillers he took as a player led to his kidney issues. Easley believed the Seahawks knew of the kidney condition and didn’t disclose it to him.
He also believed his involvement in the players’ strike in 1987 helped lead to his departure.
It wasn’t until 2002, then with Paul Allen as the owner in Seattle, that Easley began to soften his stance toward the Seahawks and was open to being welcomed back by the franchise. About the time Easley reconciled with the team, a case was starting to be made that Easley deserved consideration for the Hall of Fame. It was pointed out to Easley that he was the only defensive player on the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1980s not inducted into Canton. He was the 1984 Defensive Player of the Year and an All-Pro three times. He picked up strong support from influential voices, perhaps none stronger than Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott.
“Ronnie Lott has been talking about Kenny Easley going into the Hall of Fame since the day I retired,” Easley said. “He kept the drum beat going, and the remarkable thing about that is he didn’t have to. He was in the Hall of Fame, had a brilliant career and he didn’t have to say anything about Kenny Easley. Every time somebody would ask him or he had an opportunity to say it, he would say that Kenny Easley needed to be in the Hall of Fame. Ronnie Lott is one of the most remarkable human beings that I’ve ever associated with.”
It was a relationship based out of respect and admiration. Lott and Easley rarely played against each other in the NFL; Easley was retired by the time Lott joined the Raiders and became a twice-yearly opponent of the Seahawks, then in the AFC West. But they had a mutual appreciation for the way each played dating back to college when Lott was a star at USC and Easley was a standout across Los Angeles at UCLA.
“Going back to my freshman year, whether it was on TV in college or whether it was on TV in pros, I loved watching Kenny play,” Lott said. “I just loved the way he played the game. I loved his enthusiasm for the game. I loved his character of when he made a mistake. … It was more than watching Kenny just make hits. It was more than just watching him go out and making a tackle. What I’ve watched was the emotion and the behaviors of Kenny and the intellect of Kenny.”
Along with the kidney problems that shortened his NFL career, Easley had heart surgery last year just before finding out he was the senior committee nominee. That latest health scare made receiving the news in Houston at the Super Bowl that he was entering the Hall of Fame even more special .
“I have a lot of admiration for his pursuit of life and his resolve of not surrendering to anything,” Lott said. “I know that he’s gone through a lot to be able to stand on that stage. A lot. Way more than I ever thought about going through. And so yeah, I can’t wait.”