Kenny Easley was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday becoming the fourth player who spent his entire career with the Seahawks to make it to Canton.
Once the news began to sink in that he had finally made it, Kenny Easley said maybe the long wait to get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame made the happy reality of his election even that much better.
Easley, a standout safety for the Seahawks from 1981-87, was one of seven voted into the Hall Saturday afternoon, in the process becoming the fourth player who spent his entire career in Seattle to make it in. The others are receiver Steve Largent (inducted in 1995), defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy (2012) and offensive tackle Walter Jones (2014). Five other players who spent at least part of one season with the Seahawks are also in the Hall.
Others who will join Easley in the 2017 Hall of Fame class are running backs Terrell Davis and LaDanian Tomlinson, quarterback Kurt Warner, kicker Morten Andersen, defensive end Jason Taylor and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
Known for a hard-hitting style that earned him the nickname “The Enforcer,” Easley’s career highlights with Seattle included being voted a first-team All-Pro pick three straight years from 1983-85, being selected as the AP Defensive Player of the Year in 1984 and finishing with 32 interceptions in seven seasons as a Seahawk.
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His career was cut short due to a kidney ailment, and Easley was never considered for the Hall of Fame until this year when he was nominated by the Seniors Committee. Easley was nominated last August and said earlier this week that he was “flabbergasted’’ to get the call, saying that after never being considered as a Modern Era candidate he thought his chances at the Hall had passed (the Seniors Committee considers players who have been out of football for at least 25 years).
Easley was the only senior nominee this year and needed simply an 80 percent yes vote from the 48-member Hall of Fame voting committee to make it in.
“Enormously grateful for this opportunity,’’ Easley said in a news conference shortly after the class was announced. “To be reconsidered after 20 years, I’m glad it happened now because I feel that if it happened in 1997 I wouldn’t be as grateful as I am right now at age 58 for this to happen. So that means a great deal that it happened to me now.’’
After his playing days, Easley returned to his native Virginia and worked in real estate. He had heart issues last summer that resulted in triple bypass surgery but has recovered and was in Houston for Saturday’s vote.
Easley and the rest of the class of 2017 will be enshrined into the Hall in Canton, Ohio on Aug. 5.
While his shortened career — he played just 89 games, the fewest of any player named to the Hall since running back Gale Sayers (68 games) in 1977 — was thought to have worked against him in being considered for the Hall previously, so too is the fact that safeties have long been overlooked. Easley becomes just the eighth player who played only safety in his NFL career to make it to the Hall and the first whose career began after 1970.
Easley was the fourth overall pick of the 1981 draft by Seattle out of UCLA and became an immediate impact player, winning AFC Rookie of the Year honors from the NFL Players’ Association.
Easley’s career really flourished when Chuck Knox took over as coach in 1983. He was the leader of ball-hawking defenses that were key to finally getting the franchise into the playoffs, making seven interceptions in 1983 as the Seahawks went 9-7 to gain their first postseason berth, and then beating Denver and Miami to advance to the AFC Championship Game.
Easley then had a career-high 10 interceptions in 1984, which remains tied for a team record, as the Seahawks went 12-4 and advanced to the divisional playoffs before losing to Miami. He had three interceptions that year in one game against San Diego which remains a team record as the Seahawks forced 63 turnovers, most in team history and second-most in NFL history.
After a rocky 1987 season marred by a players’ strike — which Easley was at the center of as the team’s representative to the NFL Players’ Association — Easley was traded to Arizona for quarterback Kelly Stouffer.
During a physical that followed, it was discovered Easley had irreversible kidney damage and he was forced to retire.
Easley, who is in the process of finishing up a book about his career, sued the Seahawks as well as three team doctors, alleging an overdose of painkillers prescribed to deal with an ankle injury (specifically, Advil) led to his condition. The suit was settled out of court but Easley for years kept a distance from the Seahawks, saying he felt angry over what had happened and “estranged” from the franchise as well as the sport itself. He said last week he went roughly 15 years without watching a game of any kind.
His hard feelings, though, began to thaw when he was inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor in 2002.
He also has had a connection to one of his successors as a Seahawks safety, Kam Chancellor, who like Easley is a native of Virginia. Chancellor briefly dated Easley’s daughter, Gabrielle, when each attended Maury High School in Norfolk, Va.
Chancellor has several times said he has watched film of Easley calling him a player he has long looked up to.
“A lot of physicality,” Chancellor said of how he would describe Easley. “Just going out there dominating.” (Chancellor Tweeted congratulations to Easley after the vote, calling him “one of my idols.”)
Among others who did not make it were center Kevin Mawae, who was drafted by the Seahawks in 1994 and played for Seattle from 94-97 before moving on to spend the rest of his 16-year career with the New York Jets and Tennessee Titans.