Kenny Easley: Why longevity shouldn't matter in HOF process
Talk of Fame Network
Former Seattle safety Kenny Easley is the senior nominee for the Hall-of-Fame's Class of 2017 and for good reason: There are few defensive backs the past three decades who are his equal. In fact, when Easley played there was almost nobody better.
But that’s the rub. When he played.
He lasted only seven years before his career was cut short by injury and illness, and longevity is such a prickly issue with Hall-of-Fame voters that few players with no more than seven years service have been inducted, with former Chicago Bears' running Gale Sayers the most notable.
And he retired after the 1971 season.
But longevity is a big deal in this year's class, with three nominees (Easley, Tackle Tony Boselli and running back Terrell Davis) having no more than seven years to their careers. Yet we found someone who delivered an Aaron Rodger R-E-L-A-X message to voters, telling them that longevity shouldn’t make or break a candidate.
And that somebody is Kenny Easley.
"Greatness should be measured by what the player did to alter or change the game from his position," he said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. "To me, it really doesn't matter how many years the player has played.
"In fact, the NFL is the hardest of all of the professional sports to 'vest' in. You have to play four years before you can 'vest' in the pension program. So, to me, if you play four years or more … or just four years … it seems to me that you should be able to get into the Hall of Fame ... if that’s all you did, as long as you did something to change the game.
"I knew that after the '84 season. When teams started to split the tight end out to the far sideline, they knew in our defensive scheme the strong safety had to go with the tight end. So they would split him out there, and I would go out there. Basically, they did that so that they could play 10-on-10 football.
"And that changed the game because they didn’t do it against anybody else. I would watch the film of the same team playing against another team and another strong safety ... and they wouldn’t do that. So I thought that if my play was that special where they had to take the tight end and use him as basically a distraction to keep me from doing what I was doing on defense, I thought that was a game-changing thing.
"I wasn't the only player. I could mention Lawrence Taylor. I mean, the way he played ... he changed the nature of the left offensive tackle. The left offensive tackles, or the backside tackles, are big, athletic tackles that can move and have long arms because of what Lawrence Taylor did in the '80s.
"Bo Jackson: Game changer. I remember in Seattle when (former coach) Chuck Knox told our team that the reason why they were drafting Brian Bosworth was to be a Bo Stopper. Didn’t work. But Bo Jackson was a very unique athlete and a game changer.
"And I could go on and talk about other players. Ronnie Lott and Howie Long and so forth. But the bottom line is if a team makes a certain adjustment against a certain player that they don’t ordinarily make against another team that player is a game changer."
Easley was a game changer, particularly in 1984 when he was named the leagues Defensive Player of the Year. He was also named to five Pro Bowls and five All-Pro teams but, strangely, never chosen a Hall-of-Fame finalist or semifinalist after his retirement in 1988.
"To be honest," he said, "I had given up and reconciled with myself that it would probably never happen for one reason and one reason only and that was the years of service.e. But a numbe of folks in my church, including my pastor, would say there is a season for everything. And while I'm trying to figure it out ,God has already worked it out."
(Kenny Easley photos courtesy of Seattle Seahawks)