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Wednesday, January 18, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Seahawks

Kennedy always gearing up for the Hawks

Seattle Times staff reporter

KIRKLAND — Erik Kennedy has a million stories. Seventeen seasons working in one organization will arm a man with that much.

Like the time Jimmy Williams' chinstrap exploded on impact — half went missing in action and the other half cracked like a car window. Or the time Marcus Tubbs lost a number when someone ripped a digit off his jersey. Or the time Craig Terrill emerged from a pile without a sleeve.

And that was just last week. Just another game in the life of the Seahawks' equipment manager.

He has been around longer than the current ownership group and any of the coaches, longer than some of the Seahawks' furniture — so long, in fact, that Erik Kennedy's life since age 15 has revolved around the Seahawks locker room.

"You have to realize that it doesn't stop," Kennedy says. "This is your family. I spend more time with these guys than I do with my fiancée."

He talks about her all the time, though, eyes twinkling like a man long smitten. Sitting in his office in the Seahawks' locker room, Kennedy is describing Kimberly Spaeth with words like "wonderful" and "phenomenal." The phone rings. Someone is calling about jerseys.

Back to work.

"You guys are going through these things like a knife through hot butter," the man says.

That's another thing. Kennedy's job is never done. Especially during the season, when his staff works seven days a week. Even on a recent Tuesday, the only day the Seahawks don't practice.

Behind the Seahawks locker room is a maze of helmets, jerseys, facemasks and belts. Shelves are lined with some 500 pairs of shoes. Kennedy estimates the team goes through 650 uniforms a year and more than $100,000 worth of gloves — all part of a budget worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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Kennedy is in charge of all of this. He has to know that linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski goes through gloves the way most people go through chewing gum. For the record, he has used 56 pairs this season. He has to know that guard Steve Hutchinson doesn't want to switch his helmet shell. He has to tell center Robbie Tobeck things like "It's just a number" when trying to get Tobeck to wear his white pants one size larger.

His job requires an acute attention to detail, problem solving, people skills and crisis management. And sometimes all at the same time.

Like the time the Seahawks were playing at Kansas City in an exhibition game last August. Defensive tackle Rocky Bernard rubbed balm on his muscles to heat them up. Only the balm turned his white uniform yellow, giving the appearance that Bernard, um, wet his pants. He went straight to Kennedy.

"I don't know what I'd do without EK," Bernard says. "Each week, I need something."

They all do. Like the time quarterback Matt Hasselbeck came to the sideline with a bloody nose during a game against St. Louis. The trainers stopped the blood. Kennedy installed a new facemask, an experience Hasselbeck likened to a "pit stop."

Hasselbeck can sympathize. Like Kennedy, he started in football as a ball boy, working in the New England Patriots' equipment room while his father played there. He later calculated how much money he made an hour. It came to a whopping 88 cents.

In that respect, Hasselbeck compares Kennedy to an offensive lineman. In that it's better if he isn't noticed.

"People lean on you for everything, and when something's not perfect, they get upset," Kennedy says. "You can do 99 things right, and that one time you don't, it's a catastrophe."

If a wide receiver slips on the practice field, Hasselbeck says Kennedy often takes the blame for not outfitting the receiver with the correct shoes. If a seam comes out on a player's jersey, they often ask Kennedy what happened, even if they asked him earlier for a seam-splitting tighter fit.

One instance both Hasselbeck and Kennedy remember involved Hasselbeck throwing an interception. Coach Mike Holmgren found Hasselbeck near the bench, surrounded by a pile of sunflower seeds. He went straight for Kennedy.

"He parted the sea, coach Holmgren did," Kennedy said. "I don't even chew sunflower seeds."

But Holmgren let him have it.

"Was he mad about sunflower seeds?" Hasselbeck asked. "No. But he was mad at the quarterback, and someone had to get yelled at."

Kennedy says he sees Holmgren as a father figure. The kind of guy who pulled Kennedy's father aside in the locker room about six years ago, knowing he was dying of cancer.

"You know, Terry, sometimes I just want to slap the hell out of him," Holmgren told Kennedy's father. "But you know what? Your son will be fine. I promise I'll take care of him."

At the very moment Kennedy is retelling this story, Holmgren comes through his office door. He's giving Kennedy trouble for being a "media darling" and apologizing for interrupting.

"Quote me," Holmgren says, wagging his finger for emphasis. "He's the best."

Kennedy started with Seahawks as a ball boy at age 15 in 1988. After graduating from Redmond High School and Bellevue Community College, he joined the Seahawks full time at age 19 against his parents' wishes that he continue his education. He now lives on Lake Tapps.

Over the years, the stories have piled up. Like the time then-owner Ken Behring moved the Seahawks briefly to Los Angeles. Kennedy went along, unpacking everything and living four blocks from Disneyland, only to have it end five weeks later. Kennedy and staff had three days to repack and head back to Seattle.

He knows enough to name the most low-maintenance (running back Shaun Alexander) and high-maintenance (guard Chris Gray) players. He knows outsiders perceive his job as mostly about laundry. He laughs when Bernard calls offensive linemen "equipment prima donnas" and says they "would probably die without EK."

He knows that any time he walks into the locker room, about 15 players will ask 15 different questions, each believing their request more important than any others.

He also knows that all the work is worth it. Whether it's the $9,500 Cartier watch former defensive tackle Norman Hand gave as a thank you. Or the season these Seahawks, the most cohesive group Kennedy says he has ever worked with, put together with the help of all the support staff that goes unnoticed.

"I've been very fortunate," Kennedy says. "In the 17 years that I've worked for this team, this has never happened. Never. That's how special this is. And you can't take it for granted."

Now back to work.

Greg Bishop: 206-464-3191 or gbishop@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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