IN THE moments
before kickoff, some players listen to metal and some listen to rap. Some talk
to God and some talk to themselves. � Seattle Seahawks defensive end Patrick
Kerney wraps a black graphite glove around his neck, wires it to the portable
neuromuscular stimulator in his locker and sends small currents of electricity
into his body. He literally energizes himself. "It fires you up—your
adrenal glands," Kerney says. He also freaks out some of his less
tech-oriented teammates, who eye Kerney skeptically, as though he might be part
man 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 he
falls asleep under silver-threaded "earthing" sheets plugged into an
electrical outlet, thus ostensibly neutralizing free radicals, those highly
reactive particles that can damage cells. "I know this is going to make me
sound ridiculous," says Kerney.
That might be true
if he were not making so many others look ridiculous on the field. In his ninth
NFL season Kerney, 31, led the NFC with 14 1/2 sacks, and in the wild-card
playoff game at Qwest Field last Saturday the visiting Washington Redskins
assigned two and sometimes three men to keep him out of their quarterback's
face. It was no use. With his adrenal glands firing and no free radicals
disrupting him, Kerney was a force, amassing seven tackles and four quarterback
pressures in the Seahawks' 35--14 victory. This weekend he travels to Green Bay
to face Brett Favre and the Packers in the divisional playoffs. The
neuromuscular stimulator will be making the trip.
Kerney had a large
role in wrecking the NFL's most inspiring plotline. The Redskins were playing
for Sean Taylor, their teammate who was slain in late November. They were
playing behind Todd Collins, a quarterback who until December had not started
an NFL game in a decade. Washington, which had won four straight simply to
reach the playoffs, took a one-point lead in the fourth quarter and, after
recovering 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 put
the game away.
positioned right tackle Stephon Heyer and fullback Mike Sellers across from
Kerney, 604 pounds of pass protection. The Seahawks' end split them as if they
were straw men and swiped at Collins's right hand, forcing an incomplete pass
and a field goal attempt. Shaun Suisham's 30-yarder hooked left, and the
Redskins lost their juju. Seattle scored three straight touchdowns—two on
interception returns—to put an end to Washington's march. "You hurt more
because you know the cause was bigger than this game," said Redskins wide
receiver Santana Moss afterward, invoking Taylor's memory.
Kerney skipped off
the field with blood on the bridge of his nose, cuts along both arms and eye
black smeared across his cheeks. Turns out hedidn't hurt his nose on any of the
Redskins' double- and triple-teams but on a pregame head butt with fellow
Seahawks outside the locker room. "It felt good," he said, poking at
the fresh scab.
A first-round pick
of the Falcons in 1999, Kerney had been a fixture on the defensive front in
Atlanta, starting 105 consecutive games before tearing his right pectoral
muscle in November 2006. He missed the final seven games of the '06 season but
was nevertheless highly sought when the free-agent signing period opened in
March. Kerney visited Denver and was expecting to sign with the Broncos, but he
humored the Seahawks and took a flight to Seattle aboard owner Paul Allen's
private plane. Jim Mora, who'd coached Kerney in Atlanta and is now an
assistant with the Seahawks, went along for the ride. As the plane neared the
Pacific Northwest, Mora asked Kerney a weighted question: "So, do you want
to see Mount Saint Helens?"
He didn't need to
wait for the answer. Mora ducked his head into the cockpit, the pilot called
air traffic control for clearance, and the plane dipped its wing. For a
volcanic defensive end, it was the ultimate joyride. "You could see the
steam rising," Kerney says. "You could see the mountain blown out on
one side and the trees all matted down. The sun was breaking through the
clouds. An artist could not have painted it any better."
The Seahawks had
an unfair advantage in their free-agent courtship. From his time with the
Falcons, Mora knew that Kerney was a licensed pilot with his own four-seat
Beechcraft, 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 private
hangar in Everett, Wash., which is stocked with vintage World WarII fighter
planes. Says Seattle linebacker Lofa Tatupu of his bosses, "They knew
exactly what they were doing." On March 5 Kerney agreed to a six-year,
$39.5 million contract with the Seahawks.
It was his first
recruiting trip of any kind. Kerney, who grew up in Newtown,Pa., attended The
Taft School in Watertown, Conn., which produces plenty of National Merit
finalists but not so many edge pass rushers. He went to Virginia to play
lacrosse and walked on to the football team. Somehow, a prep-school grad and
history major whose favorite sports included lacrosse, hockey and wrestling
became a first-round NFL draft pick.
Kerney is still
exotic for his breed. In a league of Cadillac Escalades, he drives a Honda
Accord hybrid. He regularly goes to sleep by 9:30 p.m. He hikes on off days—his
favorite spot in the Seattle area is Tiger Mountain because he can't get to the
top without vomiting at least once. "I've been there with him,"
Seahawks defensive end Darryl Tapp says. "It's not a lot of fun."