Cortez Kennedy's death at 48 hit his Miami Hurricanes teammates hard. They remember his big talent and big personality.
When told Cortez Kennedy was found dead Tuesday in Orlando, Leo Armbrust picked up the phone and started down the roster. He called Warren Sapp, who broke down in tears at the news. He called Randal Hill, who was stunned in silence.
The chaplain for those Miami football teams called Russell Maryland, who played defensive tackle beside Kennedy on the '89 national champions, a pairing that caused the Hurricane sideline to break into laughter when opposing offenses tried to run up the middle.
Armbrust called Melvin Bratton and Gino Torretta and Alonzo Highsmith and called but didn't reach Randy Shannon, who one summer slept in front of the refrigerator in the apartment he shared with Kennedy in a story that goes down in 'Canes lore.
This was before Kennedy's junior year in 1988, before he was a known talent, before he became the No. 3 pick in the 1990 NFL draft, the NFL defensive player of the year for Seattle in 1992 and a Pro Football Hall of Famer in 2012.
Back when Shannon slept in front of the refrigerator, Kennedy was just a little-known wide body from a Mississippi junior college who was threatening to eat himself right off the team. Or at least off the defense.
Cortez Kennedy, a former NFL and UM star, died in Orlando at the age of 48.
By Iliana Limón Romero|
May 23, 2017 | 3:35 PM
Coach Jimmy Johnson warned that if Kennedy didn't lose some weight, and regain some quickness, he would be moved to the offensive line. We'll never know if that was a real threat or a motivational prod. Jimmy knew what kind of a player he had. They all did. That's why Shannon became guardian of the fridge, assuring Kennedy indeed lost weight to become that player.
"Those are the friends you cherish, the ones who helped you become the person you became," Kennedy said, years later, after the football was done for him and Shannon was coaching Miami.
They're dying too young, of course. So many of them, so young. Kennedy was just 48, still early in the second half of life, if you want to keep the football metaphor. But death has been part of their story for a while, as Kennedy wore No. 99 instead of his regular No. 96 one year with the Seattle Seahawks to honor a Miami mentor, Jerome Brown, who died in a car accident.
Now there will be remembrances of Kennedy. He was a big man with a big personality befitting those 'Canes teams. He threatened to knock out the Florida State horse, Renegade, when it galloped across the field before their game. He didn't, of course. But it made for some fun talk.
Mostly, his crazy stuff was reserved for doing what few defensive tackles could. He was so good by his final college season they'd have to get him off the practice field so the offense could work on its plays.
"Go get some water," coaches would say to Kennedy.
He knew what was at work. Everyone did. His football work speaks for itself. All-America at Miami? Fourteen sacks as a defensive tackle one season in Seattle? Eight Pro Bowl selections? Canton?
He only played on one winning team in Seattle, but that franchise knew what it had in a player and a person. That's why his No. 96 was retired in 2000. It's why the man he played for with the Seahawks, general manager Mickey Loomis, later took him to New Orleans as an adviser.
Kennedy was as sensible as he was talented, as much as those who navigate new riches and fame can be. He bought six cars upon being drafted. One went to his mother. Another to his girlfriend. He kept four himself. Then the insurance bill came. He sold three of them.
He'd lost weight in recent years, kept in touch with teammates and was good right to the early end on Tuesday. One of those he kept in touch with was Armbrust, who by early Tuesday evening was still calling down the roster.
He talked with defensive end Bill Hawkins, who remembered Kennedy arriving at Miami with one goal in life: To be a state trooper in his home state of Arkansas. Hawkins repeated the story through laughter when I called him.
"Who knows where Tez got that idea?" he said.
Then his voice dropped and he said what they all said Tuesday up and down that great team's roster.