Throwback Thursday: Kenny Easley

Welcome back to our Throwback Thursday blog. Each week, we spotlight one of our favorite throwback superstars. We choose these stars using a rigorous scientific process we know in-house as “Whoever Nick Feels Like Writing About This Week Unless Somebody Just Got Their Jersey Retired And Kinda Took The Decision Out Of His Hands.” This week’s Throwback Thursday was a football force of nature and Seattle legend, Kenny Easley. 

Kenny Easley was always big on symbolism. He hung a strap of leather from his facemask because “leather is tough,” and whenever he felt tired or hurt during a game he’d tug on that little strap of leather to remind himself that he could be tougher. When he wore a #5 jersey for UCLA, he came to identify with hurricanes; specifically, force five hurricanes. 

He put a small “F5” sticker on the back of his helmet, and before each game he’d stare at that sticker and psyche himself up. He’d focus on embodying the hurricane, and wouldn’t don the helmet until and unless he was ready to be “the biggest force on the field.”

Did it work? Well, in a medically-shortened seven year career, Easley won the Defensive Player of the Year award in 1984 (he also led the league in interceptions and defensive TDs that season), made five Pro Bowls and three All-Pro First Teams. Despite not playing the final three years of the decade, he was still selected as one of two safeties on the NFL’s All Decade Team for the 1980s along with Ronnie Lott.

That wasn’t the only thing Easley shared with Lott, either. Both were psychopathically competitive, with ten football-seeking dowsing rods instead of fingers (well, nine in Lott’s case). Both were also—along with Jack Tatum, you can stop shouting in the comments now, Oakland—just about the hardest hitters that’ve ever played the game. 

Easley hit like the hurricane he saw himself as; a sudden, overwhelming blast of pure force, no humanity or remorse to it. His particular style of hitting—often airborne, leading with his very-large-for-his-frame shoulders, a human cruise missile detonating into terrified receivers—was so emphatic, and yet so precise, that it always seemed premeditated. Easley seemed to know, ahead of time, where his man was going to be and from what angle he could hit him the hardest.

But there was more to Easley than just being another all-world destroyer of men. Beyond his catastrophic hits, he was also an interception generating machine, and a surprisingly able scoring threat off the catch. Once Easley came down with the ball, he’d employ a running back’s bag of tricks, with surprising lateral dexterity, gale force spin moves*, illusory ball-fakes, and a brick-hard stiff arm. So impressive was Easley off the catch, Seattle eventually made him a punt returner as well.

*Not entirely unlike… a hurricane.

Last week, Seattle retired Easley’s #45 jersey. He’s just the fourth player to earn the honor—along with the Seahawks’ greatest offensive lineman, receiver, and defensive lineman—and he’s every bit as deserving as the others. Long before the Legion of Boom turned deep-field devastation into a meme, Hurricane Easley was blowing through the 1980s, leaving battered receivers and running backs strewn in his wake.

Seattle’s got plenty of great safeties, but they’ll never see another category 45.

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