The phone call came in from none other than Kansas City Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil – and only an hour before kickoff on a Thursday night in Philadelphia, at that.
Eddie Kennison will never forget it. There he was in midseason 2001, sitting in his apartment in Denver and recently released, and yet staying confident of another opportunity in the National Football League. He had to stay optimistic. He had come too far to walk away.
Too far since his high school days back in Louisiana, where his teams wore hand-me-down uniforms, and too far since big-time college coaches blitzed him on the recruiting trail. And all of a sudden Vermeil is calling about his interest in joining the Chiefs.
“I flew into Kansas City that next day,” Kennison said, his voice clearly full of happiness, “and I’ve been in Kansas City ever since, going on 14 years.”
You’ll find him now in the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, which is proud to induct Kennison on Wednesday as part of the NFL Kickoff Luncheon presented by Ozarks Coca-Cola/Dr Pepper Bottling Company. The ceremony begins at 11 a.m. at the University Plaza Hotel and Convention Center in Springfield. (For tickets, call 417-889-3100).
Kennison’s career took off as he became one of quarterback Trent Green’s favorite targets, thus aiding a Chiefs turnaround, and later emerged as a go-to player for numerous charitable organizations.
Kennison unmistakably was as one of the NFL’s most prolific receivers while with the Chiefs from 2001 to 2007. When he retired, he ranked No. 7 on the Chiefs’ all-time yards receiving list (5,230 yards) and No. 7 in Chiefs career receptions (321). He also tallied 17 100-yard receiving games, the fourth-most in franchise history.
Put it another way: Kennison’s arrival to the Chiefs in midseason 2001 dovetailed with the team’s prolific offenses that became standard under Vermeil.
In an offense that featured future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez, Kennison gave the Chiefs a guy who could stretch the field and open up the offense.
In his time in Kansas City, the Chiefs won the 2003 AFC West in finishing 13-3, won 10 more games in 2005 and also reached the 2006 playoffs.
“Eddie’s either going to get (the ball) or make sure their guy isn’t going to get it,” Green once said in 2002. “When you have a receiver like that, it gives you more confidence to take shots downfield. It’s not just his vertical stretch, either, it’s his attitude.
“He’s brought an aggressiveness to the position, and that’s good for (young receivers). It’s good for everybody.”
Kennison’s 57.5 yards receiving per game is fifth on the Chiefs’ all-time list and just ahead of Otis Taylor’s 56.6 yards per catch. Overall, he was targeted 554 times and hauled in 321 catches, scoring 25 touchdowns.
Kennison averaged more than 961 yards receiving between 2002 and 2006, including a 1,086-yard season in 2004 followed by a 1,102-yard season.
Kennison’s favorite memory? A winning, 52-yard TD catch, in overtime, to beat the Green Bay Packers. That was in 2003 at historic Lambeau Field.
“We’re in Green Bay and we’re down 17 points going into the fourth quarter,” Kennison said. “Our defense started to come back with an interception. At the end of the fourth quarter, we’re tied. And then (the Packers’) Ahman Green fumbled.”
On the second play, Kennison hauled in the 52-yard game-winner, beating his corner cover man thanks to a double move.
It marked a huge confidence-builder for Kennison, whose NFL career was all but idling along in the late 1990s. He came out of Louisiana State as a first-round draft pick of the Rams in 1996, but eventually played for the New Orleans Saints, Chicago Bears and Denver Broncos before Vermeil’s phone call.
However, don’t assume Kennison figured he was a one-man show. Far from it. Kennison not only publicly thanks Vermeil but also offensive coordinator Al Saunders, receivers coach Charlie Joiner as well as o-linemen Willie Roaf, Brian Waters, Will Shields, John Tait and Casey Wiegmann. Those are in addition with Green, Gonzalez and rushers Priest Holmes and Tony Richardson.
“That offensive line was one of the top five in the National Football League at that time,” Kennison said. “Those guys allowed the big plays and let the offense run the way it needed to. They did an awesome job of protecting Trent Green.”
These days, Kennison continues to make his home in Kansas City with his bride, Shimika, and sons Karrington, Jisiah and Griffin.
The family is heavily involved in charitable organizations, including its own – the “QuickStart” The Eddie Kennison Foundation, which raises awareness and funds in the cure for lupus. The foundation has raised more than $90 million in the past dozen years.
“God didn’t put me on Earth to be a me person,” Kennison said. “Whether it’s time, whether it’s lending an ear, all of us human beings need someone. You never know when you can be the deciding factor in someone else’s life.”