Nov. 5, 2004
by Mike Bruscas
What better time than an election week to honor Washington's most presidential athlete? In his four-year term as head of state of the offensive line, from 1989-92 Lincoln Kennedy became one of the most dominant and decorated linemen in Husky history. He was a uniter and a divider, holding together Washington's powerful offense and blasting open holes in opposing defensive lines. In recognition of his remarkable contributions to the legacy of Washington athletics, on Friday Nov. 5, Kennedy will be inducted into the Husky Hall of Fame.
Kennedy's tenure at Washington coincided with the most successful period in Husky football history and at 6'6" and 330 pounds, Kennedy was a large reason why. His blocking led the Huskies to three straight Rose Bowl appearances every season he started and a National Championship in 1991 when the Dawgs were a perfect 12-0.
Able to energize the electorate, Kennedy was a unanimous first-team All-American his senior season, when the UW offense racked up nearly 400 yards-per-game. The native of San Diego was also a finalist for the Lombardi Award and a semifinalist for the Outland Trophy. Kennedy allowed only two sacks over his entire collegiate career, and helped such legendary UW running backs as Greg Lewis, Beno Bryant and Napoloeon Kaufman run wild over the Pac-10.
Lewis fondly remembers reaping the benefits of running behind Kennedy.
"Running behind Lincoln was fun because most times a guy that big wasn't as athletic as Lincoln was," says Lewis before adding, "Back in those days! I don't know how much he can still run.
"We used to run this counter play and Lincoln used to pull and get out in front on that play and it was unfair because with him coming around, any safety or linebacker trying to get around his block was at a disadvantage and he'd just throw them to the ground. So I really remember coming behind Lincoln and having a lot of success with that counter play," Lewis says.
Drafted ninth overall in the 1993 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons, Kennedy spent three years in Atlanta, where he played in all 48 regular season games before being traded to the Raiders in 1996.
With the Raiders, Kennedy made three consecutive Pro Bowl appearances (2000-02), helped teammate Rich Gannon win the NFL MVP and amass several NFL records, including 10 300-yard passing games in 2002, and started in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Retiring this past offseason after an illustrious 11-year pro career, Kennedy can now look back on his football career as a whole and appreciate his achievements.
"When you're involved with something more than half your life and at each increment you've been successful, it goes without saying that it has been a success," says Kennedy "I look back on my career from high school through college and professionally and the fact that I was able to do it the way that I did and play as long as I did just reiterates a great career."
Offensive linemen will never post eye-popping individual statistics. Their success is best measured by the team's win-loss record. From that standpoint, Kennedy's impact is undeniable, as he was able to compete for a championship at every level of football he ascended through.
"Playing for a championship at each level was my biggest achievement," says Kennedy. "In high school we played for the city championship in San Diego, in college we played for the national championship and won it, and as a professional I got to play in the Super Bowl. Every step of the way to achieve success and being known as one of the best to do it, whether it was All-American in high school or college or All-Pro at the professional level, it means a great deal."
While his playing days may have passed, Kennedy's Hall of Fame induction assures they will never be forgotten.
"I really can't put it into words," Kennedy says, when asked what the honor means to him. "It's an unbelievable feeling of nostalgia and emotion to be even considered one of the best at such a prestigious university. When you walk through the Hall of Fame and you look at the people--and a lot of people in the Hall of Fame have influenced me in one way or another--just to be a part of it as an individual and also as a team as we were in '91 is really a great feeling."
"The UW was such a wonderful place. Seattle was such a great town to be a part of for the five years I was up there. As well as the family and friendships I created on the field with the players and coaches, I had many with a lot of the staff members at the school. I was one of those guys who was really high on education and tried to make the very best out of the opportunity I had before me. The UW was very gracious and the staff was very helpful and I just had a remarkable time there. In my eye there's not really one moment that defines my time there but it was a correlation of many happy times all topped off by graduating with a degree. It made it all worth it and if I had to do it all over again I'd do the same. Choosing the University of Washington and the way we played and the way we came together."
Indeed, it was never only about football for Kennedy. He graduated with a degree in speech and drama and was known as much more than just a force on the field. One person who formed a close bond of respect with Kennedy was current Head Coach Keith Gilbertson, who was the offensive coordinator during Kennedy's playing days.
"The highest compliments I can pay the guy is that he played football for a long time at the highest level you can play at, at a position that's unbelievably demanding, and at the same time he's been a classy, classy person and he's very giving and I just really love the guy and think the world of him," says Gilbertson. "I know that all the guys that played with him and coached him feel the same way about him."
"He was a dominant player that had a real sense of decorum about him. He was a sensitive person and you could have business with Lincoln about lots of things, about drama and art. He knew more about those things than I did."
The same qualities were apparent to Lewis as well.
"From a standpoint of the type of person he was, he was just a good guy. He wasn't a mean, nasty, ornery offensive lineman like you think the best players usually are. He was a nice guy with a great attitude, and always did things the way they should be done."
Kennedy's studies and natural charisma have now led him to the realm of television, where he recently became a full-time analyst for "NFL Total Access", airing six days a week on the NFL Network. His dramatic training at Washington made the move a natural one.
"In school, I wanted to enhance the talents that I had that were God-given. I felt that being a speech and drama major allowed me to get away the gridiron action and maybe get into something that my heart was into," says Kennedy. "The opportunities that followed directly after I retired from football allowed me to come into this field and just enjoy myself. So many opportunities opened themselves up because I was well-received on so many different levels, by the time I came out of the game I had a number of offers in front of me. It was literally too much to pass up."
"I've had an excellent supporting cast as far as the staff and wonderful people to work with. Rich Eisen and Rod Woodson and Terrell Davis. These guys have been very successful in their own rights and to be able to work together with the great team I'm surrounded with to put the show on every day is a great testament to not only what I achieved on the field but the fact that I can do some things off the field."
"The job takes up most of my workweek and then on the weekends I do some local work for the Raiders and local radio stations in the Bay Area. I still maintain my house in the Bay Area. I feel that I've put on a nice workload to keep myself focused and try to stay grounded on the task at hand and that's developing a career after football in whatever capacity that may be. So I keep myself fairly busy. I'm just enjoying life and trying to live it to the fullest."
One of Kennedy's fellow inductees at Friday's ceremony will be his former teammate, Kaufman. The two found great success on the shores of Montlake, then linked up again with the Raiders, when Kaufman had the most productive years of his pro career.
"I remember back to the day when I hosted Napoleon on his recruiting trip and I remember that time when he was just a little kid with a gleam in his eye who really wanted to play football on the collegiate level and he couldn't wait to get up to UW to show his stuff. For me going in with him is somewhat of an emotional moment of itself because we did a lot of things together especially playing on the professional level together with the Raiders. We had a lot of time together, a lot of good fond memories, and we had a lot of success. He rode on my back and I on his. So it is a great feeling to go in with him."
Besides Kennedy and Kaufman, this year's Hall of Fame class includes former football standout Jeff Jaeger, women's basketball player Rhonda Smith, former swimming coach Earl Ellis and the members of the 1970 and 71 Husky men's crew team. Former senior associate athletic director Don Smith will be presented the Dr. Don Palmer Award for his contributions to the Husky athletic department.
Friday's ceremonies will take place in Bank of America Arena at Hec Edmundson Pavilion. The event will start with a reception at 6 p.m. followed by the ceremony on the Arena floor at 7 p.m. The class will be introduced during halftime of Saturday's home football game against Arizona.
A limited number of $45 tickets to the event are still available and can be purchased at the door.
For more information on buying tickets to the Husky Hall of Fame celebration, click here or call the Big `W' Club at 206-543-3013.