RENTON — Seahawks legend Kenny Easley happily raised the 12th Man flag before Saturday’s NFC divisional playoff win over the Carolina Panthers.
And if he then spent the rest of the day participating in a symbolic passing of the torch, he was just fine with that, too.
Easley, one of eight Seahawks in the team’s Ring of Honor and long regarded as the best strong safety in team history, watched as the team’s current strong safety, Kam Chancellor, plowed through, leapt over and ran past the Carolina Panthers.
And when it was over, Easley left as astounded as everyone else at CenturyLink Field.
Most Read Sports Stories
- Huskies prepared to take care of 'unfinished business' as 2021 football schedule is released
- Seattle Storm unveils new logo, the first major redesign since debut in 2000
- Q&A: What exactly does all this talk about Russell Wilson being unhappy mean for the Seahawks?
- Here's another thing Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll have in common with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick
- Is the Mariners' Cactus League game on TV today? Not quite as often as in spring training's past
“He clearly is separating himself from many of the other defensive backs in the league with his play,’’ Easley said this week in a phone interview.
Possibly even setting himself up to one day be called the best strong safety in Seattle history. Until now, that title was unquestionably Easley’s, who was The Associated Press 1984 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and who earned five Pro Bowls in his seven-year Seahawks career (1981-87).
If that happens, Easley says he won’t put up a debate.
“I did what I did, and I’ll let people make their own determinations about Kenny Easley and his contribution,’’ said Easley.
Easley had a front-row seat for the start of Chancellor’s career.
After retiring from the NFL, Easley settled in Norfolk, Va., where his oldest daughter, Gabrielle, attended Maury High School. Chancellor was the school’s star quarterback and basketball player. Chancellor and Gabrielle Easley dated for a little while, before going their separate ways in college. Chancellor went to Virginia Tech, and Gabrielle Easley played basketball at Virginia Union.
“She never brought him by the house,’’ said Easley, now 56.
The 6-foot-3, 232-pound Chancellor is a different kind of safety than Easley saw in his day. Easley was listed at 6-3, 198, though he says he weighed about 210.
“So you know, a big man has a bigger hit,” Easley said. “He hits with a great deal of conviction, and I’m pretty sure that when he hits you, you feel it. Speed-wise, we were probably somewhere close. But I would imagine that his pop is a little bit bigger than my pop was.’’
Chancellor recalls meeting Easley only once in high school. He asked for some advice on what to expect during his football career.
Last year, Chancellor asked the Seahawks for some film of Easley, his first time really studying his game. He saw a big hitter who spoke Chancellor’s language loudly.
“A lot of physicality, just going out there dominating,” Chancellor said, adding that you have to “look up to a guy like that.’’
Early this season, though, Chancellor was recovering from offseason hip surgery and nagging ankle issues. He thought about having surgery the week of a loss to San Diego, when he lagged behind Antonio Gates as the Chargers’ tight end scored a key touchdown.
“He wasn’t really right,’’ said Seattle coach Pete Carroll. “It wasn’t the same guy.’’
Chancellor fought through it until suffering a groin injury in practice before the Oakland game on Nov. 2. That might have proven to be a blessing. Chancellor, who had missed just one previous game in his career, sat out two weeks and came back revitalized.
As Saturday’s performance made clear — with two “did he really just do that?” leaps to try to block field goals, and some big hits — Chancellor is a different player now.
Not only is he healthy, he’s taking on a larger role in the locker room, due in part to having been elected by teammates as the defensive captain before the season (the role of departed Red Bryant the previous two years).
Chancellor isn’t as vocal as some of his teammates. Michael Bennett usually gives the final talk before the team hits the field before kickoff.
But Chancellor makes a loud statement when needed.
After a road loss to Kansas City, Seattle found itself 6-4 and at a crossroad.
The week before the Arizona game was full of team meetings and punctuated by what Chancellor calls “our little altercation.” An argument broke out after safety Earl Thomas barked at some of the defensive linemen for eating sunflower seeds during a walk-through.
Chancellor stepped up and spoke.
“I think it was the time I had to get up and say what was in my heart,’’ Chancellor said. “Talked about how we need to play out there and how we need to play for one another … The guys understood it, and we ran with it.’’
The Seahawks haven’t lost since, winning seven in a row with the defense embarking on a streak of dominance unseen in the NFL in decades. Seattle has allowed only 39 points in the past six regular-season games.
Chancellor admits he isn’t completely comfortable with his role as vocal leader. “But when my heart says I need to speak,” he said, “I just get up and speak.’’
Saturday, his actions did the talking.
The big hit early on Carolina fullback Mike Tolbert that middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said “set the tone,’’ for the defense. The two leaps over Carolina’s offensive line to try to block field goals before halftime underlined that the Seahawks are willing to pull out anything in their attempt to repeat as Super Bowl champs.
And the 90-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter that sealed it.
“I don’t know how you can play a better game,’’ Carroll said.
As he watched, Easley thought back to when he saw Chancellor for the first time at Maury High School, and later at Virginia Tech, where Chancellor played free safety his final three seasons.
“You knew he was going to be special,’’ Easley said. “He always had that big body. It was just whether or not he was going to be able to utilize that body properly. He learned over time to do that.’’
Easley also thinks Chancellor was “out of position’’ at Virginia Tech, which helped lead to his free fall in the 2010 draft. The Seahawks were able to pick him in the fifth round, the same year they also drafted free safety Earl Thomas in the first round, laying the foundation for the Legion of Boom.
“He’s on the right team in the right spot with the perfect defensive scheme,’’ Easley said. “It just makes for almost like a landslide.’’
One of Chancellor’s greatest days as a Seahawk included only one disappointment. He never got to talk to Easley, the man he’s now being compared to.
“Just wanted to hear anything from him and get a picture,’’ Chancellor said.
A picture of the two best strong safeties in Seahawks history.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699