PORTSMOUTH, VA. (WAVY) – One of the greatest defensive players in college and NFL history will finally get his due, when Ken Easley will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio on Saturday.
Easley, a five-time Pro Bowl strong safety and NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1984, was an All-American at Oscar Smith high school as the Tigers quarterback, safety, kicker, punter, kick returner and punt returner.
He had been waiting for several hours in a Houston hotel room in February awaiting word on whether or not he would selected after being nominated the Veterans Committee. Finally the knock at the door came.
“I knew instantly that’s what I was waiting for, all the anxiety and all the stress,” Easley said. “Twenty years of waiting for this to happen, just rolled off of me and man it’s like I was in Disneyland.”
Recruited by hundreds of colleges, he wanted to play for Bo Schembechler at Michigan, but Bo wanted Kenny to be the Wolverines quarterback.
“Back in that day and that time black quarterbacks weren’t getting a lot of love coming out of high school. If you were a good high school quarterback and you went into the college ranks they were pretty much going to put you at running back or wide receiver and I didn’t want to play either one of those positions. I knew I was a good defensive back I was just a good athlete playing quarterback.”
Instead on signing day he stunned the country by going to UCLA, where he was a three time All-American, predicted to be the first pick in the 1981 draft, and as we talked about in an interview 36 years ago, maybe the first defensive player to win the Heisman.
“Well, I finished ninth in the voting. Defensive players got no love from the Heisman voters, he said. I truly believed in 1981 either Mike Singletary, Lawrence Taylor or Kenny Easley should have won the Heisman Trophy.
Kenny was the fourth pick in the NFL draft, behind George Rogers, Lawrence Taylor and his UCLA teammate Freeman McNeil. He was AFC rookie of the year, then the AFC defensive player of the year, and then the NFL defensive player of the year–becoming the highest paid defensive player in the league, making $800,000, on his way to four-straight Pro Bowls.
A severe kidney disease ended his NFL career after 7 seasons.
Now it’s off to Canton.
“If I had gone into the Hall of Fame in 1997 when I was first nominated I probably would not have appreciated it as much. I know that I would not have the respect for this moment that I have for it now.”