Early Wednesday a Seattle Seahawks fan in Australia posted on Twitter a detail I hadn’t given much thought lately, amid the plateaus of hopes and disappointments from this fraught 2017 Seahawks football season:
Just remembered that the Seahawks have 96 on their helmets. They really need to take Cortez to the playoffs, and hopefully the Super Bowl.— Mark Dickenson (@seahawkeye) December 27, 2017
Cortez Kennedy, the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year who played for Seattle from 1990 to 2000, died in May of heart failure at age 48. To honor their Hall of Famer, inducted to the Canton pro football museum in 2012, the Seahawks have been wearing all season a decal on their helmet with his old numeral “96”.
Back when that news circulated and those decals were issued, most fans probably treated as a foregone conclusion that Seattle would make the playoffs for the sixth straight year. So the significance of the team symbolically “carrying” Kennedy with them into the postseason didn’t get much mentioned, I suspect, because it was rather taken for granted.
But now that the Seahawks are facing elimination in Week 17 in case of a loss to the Arizona Cardinals or events elsewhere beyond their control, that also brings into focus the chance that Seattle’s year of honoring their superstar defensive tackle could also come to an unexpectedly early close—and heightens another emotional meaning qualification might offer instead.
Even beyond the purely ceremonial aspect such poetic transmigration would involve, “delivering” Kennedy’s soul to the tournament also isn’t technically a milestone: Although ’Tez prime never got to play for the contender his talents deserved, Kennedy did suit up for the Seahawks’ 1999 playoff game in his second to last season, recording three tackles for losses and batting down a pass in defeat against the Miami Dolphins. But were Seattle to both get into the dance and upset the NFC’s third seed on the road while honoring his numeral, that advancement beyond the Wild Card round would represent in spirit something Kennedy never got to directly experience in life. (Strictly speaking, Kennedy did win a Super Bowl as a consultant to the New Orleans Saints front office in 2009. And in another sense claiming Kennedy as a lifelong Seahawk, some part of Seattle’s 2013 championship goes to him as well.)
Small token, perhaps—and obviously the Seahawks organization, players and staff have plenty enough at stake to motivate maintaining a successful trajectory and accomplishing the least of their more concrete 2017 goals. But it’s still worth remarking and reflecting, as Mark Dickenson’s tweet does, on what dedicating endeavors to somebody’s memory implies.
Kennedy’s speed and versatility as a 300-pound defensive tackle famously remolded horizons and expectations for what that position could provide, opening the way for big-bodied players with quickness like Sheldon Richardson. In September, Seattle expended sizable future and immediate resources to add Richardson to its lineup, signaling (among other moves) an intention to push “all-in” for this season. Surely no resonance to honoring Kennedy’s legacy caused or even inspired John Schneider to make that decision; I’m just saying how, whatever happenstance it may be, the various currents of financial and commemorative urgency flow toward the same precipice this weekend.
Beside, no matter how we chorus of online analysts rationally fret over fiscal sustainability in the Seahawks’ latest roster construction, any sober discussion of realigning short-term success with over-leveraged salary and draft management strategies makes for a hell of a lot less fun pregame speech than “GO WIN ONE FOR ’TEZ!!”