IN THE momentsbefore kickoff, some players listen to metal and some listen to rap. Some talkto God and some talk to themselves. ¬∂ Seattle Seahawks defensive end PatrickKerney wraps a black graphite glove around his neck, wires it to the portableneuromuscular stimulator in his locker and sends small currents of electricityinto his body. He literally energizes himself. "It fires you up—youradrenal glands," Kerney says. He also freaks out some of his lesstech-oriented teammates, who eye Kerney skeptically, as though he might be partman and part machine. ¬∂ When Kerney goes home to his house in Bellevue, Wash.,he climbs into a hyperbaric chamber to infuse his body with oxygen. Then hefalls asleep under silver-threaded "earthing" sheets plugged into anelectrical outlet, thus ostensibly neutralizing free radicals, those highlyreactive particles that can damage cells. "I know this is going to make mesound ridiculous," says Kerney.
That might be trueif he were not making so many others look ridiculous on the field. In his ninthNFL season Kerney, 31, led the NFC with 14 1/2 sacks, and in the wild-cardplayoff game at Qwest Field last Saturday the visiting Washington Redskinsassigned two and sometimes three men to keep him out of their quarterback'sface. It was no use. With his adrenal glands firing and no free radicalsdisrupting him, Kerney was a force, amassing seven tackles and four quarterbackpressures in the Seahawks' 35--14 victory. This weekend he travels to Green Bayto face Brett Favre and the Packers in the divisional playoffs. Theneuromuscular stimulator will be making the trip.
Kerney had a largerole in wrecking the NFL's most inspiring plotline. The Redskins were playingfor Sean Taylor, their teammate who was slain in late November. They wereplaying behind Todd Collins, a quarterback who until December had not startedan NFL game in a decade. Washington, which had won four straight simply toreach the playoffs, took a one-point lead in the fourth quarter and, afterrecovering a kickoff that the Seahawks' return team somehow failed to touch,had third down at the Seattle 12-yard line with 11:44 left, and a chance to putthe game away.
Washingtonpositioned right tackle Stephon Heyer and fullback Mike Sellers across fromKerney, 604 pounds of pass protection. The Seahawks' end split them as if theywere straw men and swiped at Collins's right hand, forcing an incomplete passand a field goal attempt. Shaun Suisham's 30-yarder hooked left, and theRedskins lost their juju. Seattle scored three straight touchdowns—two oninterception returns—to put an end to Washington's march. "You hurt morebecause you know the cause was bigger than this game," said Redskins widereceiver Santana Moss afterward, invoking Taylor's memory.
January 14, 2008
Kerney skipped offthe field with blood on the bridge of his nose, cuts along both arms and eyeblack smeared across his cheeks. Turns out hedidn't hurt his nose on any of theRedskins' double- and triple-teams but on a pregame head butt with fellowSeahawks outside the locker room. "It felt good," he said, poking atthe fresh scab.
A first-round pickof the Falcons in 1999, Kerney had been a fixture on the defensive front inAtlanta, starting 105 consecutive games before tearing his right pectoralmuscle in November 2006. He missed the final seven games of the '06 season butwas nevertheless highly sought when the free-agent signing period opened inMarch. Kerney visited Denver and was expecting to sign with the Broncos, but hehumored the Seahawks and took a flight to Seattle aboard owner Paul Allen'sprivate plane. Jim Mora, who'd coached Kerney in Atlanta and is now anassistant with the Seahawks, went along for the ride. As the plane neared thePacific Northwest, Mora asked Kerney a weighted question: "So, do you wantto see Mount Saint Helens?"
He didn't need towait for the answer. Mora ducked his head into the cockpit, the pilot calledair traffic control for clearance, and the plane dipped its wing. For avolcanic defensive end, it was the ultimate joyride. "You could see thesteam rising," Kerney says. "You could see the mountain blown out onone side and the trees all matted down. The sun was breaking through theclouds. An artist could not have painted it any better."
The Seahawks hadan unfair advantage in their free-agent courtship. From his time with theFalcons, Mora knew that Kerney was a licensed pilot with his own four-seatBeechcraft, so the next day in Seattle, Kerney got a ride on Allen's seaplane,which landed in the middle of Puget Sound. Then he was taken to Allen's privatehangar in Everett, Wash., which is stocked with vintage World WarII fighterplanes. Says Seattle linebacker Lofa Tatupu of his bosses, "They knewexactly what they were doing." On March 5 Kerney agreed to a six-year,$39.5 million contract with the Seahawks.
It was his firstrecruiting trip of any kind. Kerney, who grew up in Newtown,Pa., attended TheTaft School in Watertown, Conn., which produces plenty of National Meritfinalists but not so many edge pass rushers. He went to Virginia to playlacrosse and walked on to the football team. Somehow, a prep-school grad andhistory major whose favorite sports included lacrosse, hockey and wrestlingbecame a first-round NFL draft pick.
Kerney is stillexotic for his breed. In a league of Cadillac Escalades, he drives a HondaAccord hybrid. He regularly goes to sleep by 9:30 p.m. He hikes on off days—hisfavorite spot in the Seattle area is Tiger Mountain because he can't get to thetop without vomiting at least once. "I've been there with him,"Seahawks defensive end Darryl Tapp says. "It's not a lot of fun."
But there's areason why Tapp keeps following Kerney into weight rooms and up mountain peaks,even if the experience is usually painful and nauseating. Last season, withoutKerney, Tapp had three sacks and 22 solo tackles. This season, with Kerneyserving as his mentor and bookend, Tapp racked up seven sacks and 41 solotackles.
After Saturday'splayoff victory a few of Kerney's defensive teammates peered into his locker,checking out the graphite gloves and the muscle stimulator, as though thegadgets held some scientific secret to his dominance. "At first we allthought it was a little weird," tackle Rocky Bernard said. "Now it'salmost normal."
And it's more thanenough to fire up the Seahawks' adrenal glands for a deeper postseason run.
Peter King analyzes every playoff game, and picks thewinners, each week.
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