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Dynamite Seahawk : Safety Kenny Easley Has a Reputation for Being One of the NFL's Most Explosive Hitters

December 14, 1985|RICHARD HOFFER | Times Staff Writer

KIRKLAND, Wash. — There is a frightening relish with which Kenny Easley explains dynamite pigskin , the mayhem of choice among the young men of Chesapeake, Va.

"Dynamite pigskin," he says, his eyes lighting up for the first time this day. "Rough-and-tumble football. What you do, you get all the kids in the community, whoever wants to play, and no one chooses sides, anything like that. You just get the football, which is the pigskin, and whoever touches it, the rest of the guys just hit you, cream you.

"And so once you get tackled, you have to throw the ball up in the air. That's the piece of dynamite. You never want to hold it, because if you hold it, you're gonna get blasted.

"We never played organized football. Just played this for hours, beating each other up. A lot of fun. Never stopped. A nonstop game. No clock, no signs, no play calling, none of that stuff. Just played for hours."

Easley's eyes, guarded just a moment ago, now are full of contentment.

About dynamite pigskin, he is asked: Who wins?

He seems surprised.

"Nobody wins," he says. "You just keep going, dragging injured guys off, until all but the last couple of guys are left. Nobody wins. You just survive it."

There are some people in the National Football League who would contend that Kenny Easley, the Seattle Seahawks' strong safety and arguably the best defensive player in the league, never really graduated from dynamite pigskin.

He is in his fifth pro season and he went to the Pro Bowl after the last three. He was a consensus All-American after his last three seasons at UCLA. Yet, as he prepares for Sunday's game against the Raiders, bad ankle notwithstanding, there is concern that Easley, this rogue defensive back, is still very much playing his own game.

And, some say, it's not always pretty.

The talk began after last year's AFC playoff game, in which Easley, who had just been named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year, sent Miami receivers Mark Duper and Bruce Hardy to the sideline with bell-ringing tackles.

It continued this season when Cincinnati receiver Mike Martin, failing to yield the pigskin even out of bounds, got blasted--somewhat gratuitously, it was thought in some quarters.

One magazine called Easley "the cheapest of cheap-shot artists." Seattle reporters noted the violence, as well, and the hometown columnists admonished him to employ his talent in less homicidal ways.

Other reporters across the country picked up on it, and before you knew it, his interception totals--he has averaged six a year and had 10 last year--were no longer the subject of discussion. His abilities to stuff the running game, the way good linebackers do it, and nullify the passing game, the way good free safeties do it, were overlooked.

The subject was now Easley's intimidation, the make-my-day flair he brought to the game. Dynamite pigskin, made even more explosive in the nuclear age of the NFL.

To tell the truth, Easley had somewhat cultivated that image. For the Seahawks' highlight film, he once stared into the camera and said, "Let's face it, I'm vicious." He liked being known for his aggressive and physical brand of football. "Any player on the defensive side of the ball would like that said of him," he said.

His colleagues backed that up, celebrating his runaway-train style. Said then-teammate Reggie McKenzie: "He's one of the most vicious tacklers ever. He comes up and shaves a man's butt."

Isn't that the idea? As his position coach, Ralph Hawkins, told his detractors, "That's the game. If they don't want that, they'd play two-hand touch, below the waist."

But the image got out of hand. Easley knew it had gotten out of hand when his mother called from Chesapeake.

"She was, uh, excited and upset," he said. "It was the kind of thing, 'I didn't raise my boy to behave like this.' It took a while to calm her down."

So, Easley decided to go easy with that image and refused to talk to the media, not so much because he blamed them, but he just wanted to give this all a chance to die down.

"As far as being violent, I'm not playing the game to hurt anyone physically or put them out of commission," he said in only one of two sitdown interviews he has given this season. "I don't think anyone wants to be remembered like Jack Tatum, a fine football player who will always be associated with (the paralyzing of) Darryl Stingley."

It would be a pity if Easley, 26, is not remembered as one of the greatest defensive backs of his time, the kind of guy you fear, but for all the right reasons. Denver Coach Dan Reeves once said: "You have to know where Kenny Easley is on every play. If you don't, you're in all kinds of trouble."

That is the high praise Easley prefers.

Certainly, Easley is regarded as the best by the Seahawks, who signed him to a contract that pays a reported $650,000 a year, more than longtime rival/friend Ronnie Lott, a colleague with the San Francisco 49ers.

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