Squeezed into an XXL Jersey and 46-inch-waist football pants, his love handles rolling over the belt and his buttocks straining the threads of the seat, Seattle Seahawk defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy looks more like a candidate for a weight-loss program than an elite professional athlete. At various times in his football career, the 6'1¾", 300-pound Kennedy has been nicknamed Baby Cakes, Tons of Buns, Water Buffalo, Big Fella and the Sofa. His favorite moniker was "my fat little buddy," bestowed on him by the late Jerome Brown, who was an All-Pro defensive tackle for the Philadelphia Eagles and Kennedy's best friend.
"I like being big because it gives me confidence," says Kennedy, who was a Pro Bowl selection in 1991, his second season in the NFL. "Nobody wants to mess with me, and it helps me play my position. If I were small, I'd be a pretty boy. I'd have muscles, and I'd be standing in front of the mirror all the time. I don't want to be thin. I don't want to be pretty. I just want to be the Tez."
Being the Tez means being one of the most dominant defensive players in the league today and one of the strongest and quickest 300-pounders ever to play the game. He is the '90s prototype at his position, which has evolved over the last three decades from tall, chiseled men like Dallas Cowboy Hall of Famer Bob Lilly to cumbersome kitchen appliances like Brown, William (the Refrigerator) Perry of the Chicago Bears and Michael Dean Perry of the Cleveland Browns. The Tez combines the best characteristics of all three—the power and savvy of Brown, the strength of the Fridge and the quickness of Michael Dean. "I'm the new defensive tackle," the 24-year-old Kennedy says proudly. "I'm the start of my generation."
With his low center of gravity and quick first step at the snap of the ball, Kennedy beats offensive linemen by getting his hands underneath their shoulder pads before they can properly set their feet and get balanced. Then he uses his enormous size to knock them on their butts. And don't even think about trying to stop Kennedy by cutting his feet out from under him, because he'll leap over that block and plop onto the quarterback for a sack.
"From my vantage point I see Tez grabbing guys by the shoulders and throwing them out of the way like rag dolls," says Seahawk free safety Eugene Robinson. "I see the hole open, a running back about ready to break through, and, boom, the back gets slammed."
Just ask the New England Patriots about how Kennedy can take over a game. In Seattle's only win of the season, a 10-6 defeat of the Pats on Sept. 20, Kennedy manhandled left guard Reggie Redding, a 6'4" 305-pounder, in the best performance of his career, for which he was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week. In the first half Kennedy ripped past Redding to sack Hugh Millen three times and cause him to fumble twice. New England never crossed midfield. "It was the most impressive first half I've ever seen," says Seattle coach Tom Flores. "He played like a man possessed."
Kennedy finished with 10 tackles, including five for losses totaling 33 yards. "He's quick as hell," says Redding. "He went outside me a lot, and I couldn't do anything about it."
A week later Kennedy worked over Miami Dolphin guard Keith Sims, a 6'2" 310-pounder. "If he gets underneath you, he drives you anywhere he wants to," Sims says. "He's very similar in size and strength to Jerome Brown, but Jerome would take a play off. This guy is coming constantly."
In two games against the Los Angeles Raiders this year, Kennedy had a total of 16 tackles and three sacks. Of his 75 tackles for the season, 19 have resulted in a loss of yardage, including 8.5 sacks. He's the only bright spot on a 1-10 team.
But let's be honest: Kennedy is a freak of nature. He's a couch potato who lifts weights only occasionally, but he can easily squat-lift 600 pounds. He has been timed at 4.8 seconds in the 40. To come close to the 300-pound weight limit imposed by Flores every Friday during the season, Kennedy spends a lot of time on a stair-climbing machine.