The rebellion was not spectacular, but it was unremitting. Kennedy refused to honor his stepfather in any way, and as his mother continued to back this interloper, he cut off all ties with his family. He stayed out with friends, ran with a gang for a while. He clung to any outside interest that was available. He plunged into drama and traveled the city in a production of Dancers, Dreamers and Spitball Shooters. He sang in the choir, practiced his trumpet. "Anything that got me out of my little reality," he says.
But this did not resolve the tension. Kennedy still assumed that his father and mother would eventually get back together. "I felt no one was right for my mother except my father. I always thought they'd get back together, and if I had to be the mediator, so be it. In the meantime, I was an outsider in this family."
The theater work was good therapy for him. "It was the only way I could venture outside myself, experience my emotions without showing them as my own," he says. "If I was doing a monologue about my woman dying, it was easy to cry. All I had to do was think, My father never took me fishing." But neither theater groups nor all the counselors his mother dragged him to were going to save this family. Finally, when Lincoln was 13, his mother committed him to a 30-day stay at a hospital for troubled teens. Something important happened in that hospital.
"I went haywire," is how Kennedy remembers it. "I was ripping things apart, trying to beat on everything. I just blew up. A couple of days later, after I'd finally cooled down, the doctors told me I had let everything out; it just flowed, all the hurt, all the guilt. Until that day, I hadn't understood why I was hurting so much, how I hadn't felt a part of anything. Then I realized I already had a family. Finally, it was time to continue my life."
Kennedy went home, realizing at last that his parents would never get together, and achieved a grudging peace with the parents at hand. Years later, after the Huskies' Freedom Bowl win over Florida in '89, he made his stepfather a gift of the watch that the players were given. His mother recalls Lincoln's stay in the hospital as "the longest 30 days of my life, but when he was in college, he wrote me a letter. He thanked me."
Truly, Kennedy has a lot to be thankful for. The college experience has not been wasted on him. He did consider entering the NFL draft following his junior season, but not for long. "I look around at what football has given me," he says. "I can have this education, at a top university, and all I have to do is play football?"
Make no mistake. Kennedy, the drama major, will not join a dinner theater upon graduation. There is astonishing money in his NFL future, and Kennedy is not of a mind to dismiss that kind of career. But, at the moment, he believes that his drama degree will be more important to his life. "Football's something you do for a while," he says. "You look at the great warlords of the game. Dick Butkus can hardly walk!"
He likes the idea of someday starting his own theater group. All the drama courses he has taken at Washington point him in that direction. Because of football, which has interfered with rehearsals, he has not enjoyed a large number of roles. But if he had wanted to be a star, he would be playing some position besides offensive tackle.
These days Kennedy is happy just to be part of a family. And maybe, at that, he's ready to be the big brother. As far as football goes, he has already achieved his highest goal—becoming co-captain of the Huskies. As he ranges across his beloved campus, he collars teammates to remind them of the running program at three that afternoon. It makes him increasingly cheerful, each little brother he runs into. But he believes his leadership abilities can be put to bigger use than that.
"What I want to do is get my master's degree in education," he says, "and use the drama I'm learning to teach kids. I will somehow—whatever it takes—work with children, put on plays about growing up, how difficult it is. I will learn to do that."