Eddie Kennison Has Talent and Faith on His Side

When the Kansas City Chiefs needed to upgrade their offense in Dick Vermeil's first season back in 2001, he turned to a player he had coached in the past. It was also a player he traded away when he was Head Coach of the St. Louis Rams back in 1999. Still, as a trait known by many Chiefs fans, Vermeil stays loyal and in-touch with many of his former players.

This time Vermeil turned to Eddie Kennison who had just been released by Denver and not many until now understood the real reasons that he left the Broncos. Vermeil knew there had to be a good reason and he listened and supported Kennison. That led to a face to face visit between Vermeil and Kennison and that was the last time the Chiefs wide receiver packed his bags as he's found a home in Kansas City.

A lot has been said about the struggles and misconceptions of the Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Eddie Kennison. But for the Chiefs top receiver he's had to endure some harsh realities on and off the field. Through it all he's held an enormous faith in god, humanity and takes strength from his family. He had to overcome personal choices that rocked his foundation and tested his faith in everything from football to life.

I've talked many times about the sacrifices NFL players make but there is a fine line between playing football on the field and dealing with the battles off the field that surround your family.

Eddie Kennison found that out for himself back in 2001. Before the season began and after coming off his third team in three years, Kennison found himself searching for a new team. He had two choices: come back to Dick Vermeil and play for the Kansas City Chiefs or go to the Denver Broncos. Kennison chose the Broncos.

"I thought I could play more in Denver," said Kennison. "They had Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey and they really didn't have anyone else and add to that Denver roster and make a run at the Super Bowl." That apparently was enough to make the decision. Though the last three years had found him in St. Louis with the Rams under Vermeil, in New Orleans after that and the following year in Chicago playing for the Bears, Kennison thought he had found a home with the Broncos.

He felt that he had done that when choosing Denver over Kansas City. After an injury to McCaffrey during the season opener against the New York Giants, he became the starter. But during the season his life and career would change. Eddie Kennison's wife Shimika was pregnant with their first child Karrington, but there was something else wrong. She had not been feeling well, but at the time it appeared to be nothing abnormal for a pregnant woman.

But still it was trying on Eddie Kennison. At the height of her undiagnosed illness, he had to make a decision that would not only change his life but force him into a career move that was upsetting, but in the long run for the best.

Kennison informed Denver Broncos Head Coach the Saturday night before a home game that he would not be able to play on Sunday. He needed to stay home with his ailing wife.

The Broncos took it as an insult and Shanahan made it clear that this was a career decision. "Looking back on it," Kennison said to me. "It was just not clear what was going on. Nobody understood what was happening to my wife. I had to ask God what to do and it was clear that I needed to be with my wife."

Shanahan and the other Broncos teammates didn't know what was wrong but they labeled Kennison a quitter and a trader. For Kennison he couldn't be bothered with that kind of stuff. He needed to find out what was wrong with his wife.

After visiting a specialist in Houston, Shimika was diagnosed with Lupus. Generally Lupus is detected during pregnancy. The disease can affect virtually any system in the body. Think of it as a 'self-allergy' where the body attacks its own cells and tissues causing inflammation, pain, and possible organ damage. But the most significant cases of Lupus effect joints and muscles. The pain is unbearable, the body becomes fatigued, arthritis sets in and fevers above 100 degrees can occur with regularity.

"There are times Shimika can't get out of bed. That's hard to watch and hard to deal with especially with two children, "said Kennison. "But my wife is an inspiration to me."

That is the essence of Eddie Kennison and it started in his home town of Lake Charles, Louisiana. He was a parade all-America and was considered one of the finest wide receiver prospects to come out of the state of Louisiana in quite sometime. In fact his high school Washington-Marion High retired his number and that was the first time that ever happened in school history. In his last two seasons at Washington-Marion Kennison caught 86 passes, 25 of them for touchdowns.

With that success College schools came calling and many wanted to get that world class sprinter speed on their campuses. Kennison had little pressure to play for the hometown LSU Tigers. In fact he wanted to play for Florida State.

"Not many people knew that I had committed to Florida State. I was going there and I then I took my visit to LSU and told myself this was the place to be. It was close to home and my family didn't have a lot of money to travel back and forth to Florida. It made things convenient and have no regrets about going to LSU," said Kennison.

Family is very important to Eddie Kennison and he enjoyed the aspect that his family could watch him play in college. "It was a two way street. If they weren't able to make any games on Saturday, it didn't stop me from going out and performing. It's always a good thing to have your family in the stands watching."

Notwithstanding, Kennison enjoyed a great career for the LSU Tigers. He was a prolific pass catcher but also had a propensity for returning punts and kick-offs. Kennison used that track speed and turned himself into one of the most dangerous returners in college football.

That caught the eye of the NFL and Kennison was a first round draft pick of the St. Louis Rams where they wanted to punch up an offense that had struggled. Kennison made quite an impression on the Rams in his rookie season. He started 14 of 16 games and led the Rams in catches with a total of 54. He also led them with nine touchdowns. Against the Arizona Cardinals that season he became the first Ram player to score a touchdown receiving and in the return game. For Kennison it was an easy transition from the LSU Tigers to the St. Louis Rams.

"I was drafted by Rich Brooks (then the St. Louis Rams Head Coach) and it wasn't that much of a difference. At this level everyone is good. In college you might run up against some guys that just finished their boards to become a lawyer and they're just out on the football field to play. But they don't have the athletic ability to really play. But in this league (the NFL) everyone is here for a reason and that's to play football. The tempo is faster and you have to study a lot more. The game of football does not change at any level. It's just terminology," said Kennison.

But the most impressive aspect of Kennison's receiving abilities was his ability to get significant yardage on each catch. He averaged 17.1 yards per catch and he thought he was on the rise in the NFL. But after Rich Brooks was fired by Rams management, Dick Vermeil came out of retirement and started to revamp the St. Louis organization.

"That was a tough year for him as well. He had been out coaching for fourteen or fifteen years at that time and I think he was lost in how the game progressed. He came in with the three and half hour practices. Guys would come and say what are you doing. Catch up with the technology. Catch up with what's going on. Everyone was used to practice for ninety minutes but he was old school."

Kennisson laughed when I asked him if practices had changed with Vermeil in Kansas City. "No they hadn't changed too much. Some people could argue the point but his philosophy obviously worked because he won a Super Bowl in 1999."

As with other players that I interviewed, Kennison spoke the praises of his head coach but in those early years he was just young and wanted to play football. Kennison reflecting on the first encounter with Vermeil definitely understood more. "Now being older looking at Vermeil, I can look back and say he is a man of character but back then I just wanted to play football. Now he generally believes in his players and he loves every player that he coaches. He knows every guy is different in his own way and he treats each guy as individuals and he finds a way to muster up all those players and bring them together in one team. Only he knows what he's trying to do and we see that and it brings us closer together as teammates," said the Chiefs receiver.

Kennison ran into the usual sophomore blues that hinder many budding NFL fast starters. But after getting adjusted to the Rams new offense in 1997, Kennison came back in 1998 with a vengeance where he scored ten more touchdowns and hauled in 96 catches for a Rams offense that was gaining steam. In fact, the quarterback on the other side of those passes was Tony Banks.

"I felt very comfortable with Tony," said Kennison. But that chemistry was short lived as Vermeil traded Kennison to the New Orleans Saints in his third year in the league. Being traded was a shock. "I talked to coach Vermeil about it and he said it would be the best thing for me to go play near home and he was right. I don't know how he knew it but he did. He knew what kind of person I am and that's why to this day, I'm back with him in Kansas City," said Kennison.

Though initially he didn't agree with Vermeil because the same year he was traded the Rams won the Super Bowl. While he was leading the Saints in all offensive categories, the Rams were making a run for the title. Kennison had thought long and hard while he was playing in NFL purgatory in New Orleans about the fact that his old team was about to reach the pinnacle of the sport. "I knew I could help that team. I was a little hurt by being traded and it did bother me but I did get to play at home and be close to my family."

After a year in NFL hell playing for New Orleans on a very bad football team, Kennison was traded to the Chicago Bears where he completed the hat trick by leading this third team in catches, yardage and touchdowns in as many years. But that wasn't enough to get a new contract from the Chicago Bears.

Still it was a job for Kennison and the Bears offered him the forum to showcase his talents because he was truly their best receiver. But Chicago and Kennison didn't see eye to eye when it came to securing a new contract. He admitted that it was not a pleasant experience when he learned that then head of player personnel Jim Haslett didn't want him back.

"They didn't think I was good enough. They were spending their money on Marcus Robinson and their general manager told my agent that I would not be resigned despite being the team's top offensive player. I heard him talking to my agent, with me sitting in my agent's office, that Eddie Kennison was not good enough to play on the Bears football team. A lot of that had to do with their decision to develop wide receiver Marcus Robinson and that's what led me to Denver the following year," said Kennison.

Though we all knew how it would turn out for Kennison in Denver he still had high hopes for his career in the Mile High city. "I thought I could go in and contribute but quarterback Brian Griese, his mindset completely changed the offense. We were seven or eight games into the season and I only had 11 catches and Rod smith had 63 catches. I don't know what happened," said Kennison.

Going back Kennison was not sure what was really happening. He was not sure if Griese purposely didn't throw him the ball or if Broncos Head Coach Mike Shanahan had something to do with it. "I don't know," said Kennison.

"I was upset with it and bothered by it. In practice we would work on the offense and I would catch balls and think that I'm going to be a part of things on Sunday."

Then the issues arose with Shamika and as Kennison put it, "it was like putting gasoline on the fire. I just didn't get any support from the Broncos organization. Everything just went bad." But looking back on it Kennison admitted that nobody understood, including himself and his wife Shamika. In retrospect it was hard to blame the Broncos for the stance they took that eventually led to the release of Kennison.

Still it was a difficult time as it appeared that Kennison's NFL career might have ended because of the perception that he was labeled a quitter.

"When I didn't play that Sunday the media was in his ear, the team was in his ear and the owner was in his ear saying we don't need this guy on our team. At the time I knew what was best for me. God told me what was best for me. And I knew that something bad was going to happen if I didn't stay with my wife. It just was not the right thing for me to do (playing the game). A lot of men have to know their responsibilities. Even though this is a business, know what your priorities are all the time. Is it football or family? For me it will always be my family, God and football. At the time my wife and my unborn son needed my attention."

With his NFL career on hold and his wife ill, Kennison was at a crossroads in his life. For the next three weeks, he attended to the needs of Shamika and their unborn son. Then a phone call from Dick Vermeil would change his life.

"I remember this vividly, the Chiefs were set to play the Philadelphia Eagles on a Thursday Night and he called me earlier in the day and asked me how I was doing and then he wanted to know if I still wanted to play football. What people didn't understand was that I wanted to play football but the media perceived it as if I didn't want to play, but I did," said Kennison.

During that three week hiatus Eddie and Shimika were able to discover what was wrong as they received definitive conformation that she indeed had Lupus after meeting with a specialist in Houston. They found the right medication and it was clear in Kennison's mind that he wanted to play football again but he was not sure he'd get the opportunity until the Chiefs called.

"Coach Vermeil then asked me if I wanted to come to Kansas City for a visit on Friday. I said that I needed to talk to my wife. He told me that he would call me back after the game. I sat down with my Shimka and she asked me if I was ready to go back and play and told her ‘yes I'm ready.' I didn't want to sit at home. She said go and I've been here every since," said Kennison.

That was something that brought a huge smile to the face of Eddie Kennison. After all these years trying to find a place to call home he found one in Kansas City. The most comforting aspect of his time in Kansas City has been the fact his family has found a home as well.

In his first year with the Chiefs, Kennison was able to make an impact on the offense even though he only played in five games in 2001. But the receivering corps for the Chiefs back then was not very good and Kennison found himself in 2002 as one of the starters on an offense that was just learning how to walk.

Kennison knew that this team had something special and unlike his experience with Brian Griese in Denver, Trent Green made all the difference in the world in gaining his trust.

"Trent told me once I got here that you are my guy and I've never had a quarterback tell me that. And what wouldn't you do to make your quarterback look good after he says something like that. I knew that he was sincere when he said it. I told Trent that first year when we were playing Cleveland. I was running half speed with two guys running with me. I said there is no way that you're going to throw to over here and he threw it anyway. I went back to the huddle and I told him that you will never catch me jogging again. Trent will throw it," said Kennison.

A lot has been made about Trent Green and his ability to be a great quarterback. Kennison would hear none of that talk about his quarterback and he also didn't want to talk about the Chiefs lack of a home-run hitter on offense. To him it all starts with the man throwing the football and he can't understand why his team has received any criticism based on their performance the last two seasons. Yes they started out slow this year but they have a lot of fire power.

"We don't care about the recognition or what people say on TV. Look at the stat book. You'll see his numbers. See how many receivers caught more than 50 balls last year or our yards per catch. That speaks for itself," said Kennison.

That season the Chiefs learned that they could count on Eddie Kennison to make the long pass and he led his fourth organization in receiving. At the end of the 2002 season Kennison could have fled the Chiefs and become an unrestricted free agent, but he made it clear to management that he wanted to stay.

"I told Dick Vermeil and Carl Peterson that I wanted to re-sign with Kansas City. I told them lets get it done." The two sides reached an agreement on a six-year long-term contract and Kennison has found a home in Kansas City and in the community. He wanted to make sure that he finished his career in Kansas City and the Chiefs felt the same way.

This season has not started out that well for Kennison who spent the majority of training camp nursing a fractured wrist and then in the teams second game of the season, he strained a hamstring. Eddie was looking forward to washing the taste out of his mouth from last year's playoff loss against the Colts.

He believes, as many Chiefs players have said they do, that they all still believe they are a better team than the one that showed up last January in the Chiefs first playoff game at home since the 90's.

"It was one of those games where the ball just didn't bounce are way. Obviously winning thirteen games last season we had the confidence. But the other team we played has other high paying guys and we just didn't get it done that day,' said Kennison.

Now the Chiefs, after a slow start, face an uphill battle to make the playoffs and get back to respectability. It won't be easy but Eddie Kennison who has battled a hamstring injury most of September found it hard to be out of the lineup.

"It's hard to watch from the sidelines, it's very difficult. You go through so much with the guys, your on the field with them and you hate to see them going through it when you're not physically able to help. I want to be on the field giving my time and effort to help this organization win and to help the other ten guys who are on the field with me at the same time. There's no other place I'd rather be on a Sunday. When sitting on the sidelines, I caught myself wanting to run on the field with my shorts and T-Shirt on to play."

Still, despite the slow start, Kennison says that this team has character. "These guys understand what they have to do to turn this around. We're going to get it rolling." When I mentioned that I heard a comment that linebacker Shawn Barber had reportedly said in the locker room after the Texans lost about this team not being able to win the next thirteen games, Kennison confirmed it by once again saying character. "No one left that huddle when he challenged everyone in the locker room to be part of his faith. That tells you the character of everyone on this team they all believe they can win."

That also tells you about the character of Eddie Kennison and to that point he has taken it upon himself to help others who suffer from Lupus. That's why he started the Quick Start Foundation (www.eddiekennisonfoundation.com).

"We started a foundation because of my wife. We had no knowledge about Lupus and how it affects people, families and communities. Once we got a better understanding of what it was and what you had to do to keep yourself living, it was a like a sense of urgency and we decided to start a foundation not only to help my wife but also the other 1.5 million people who suffer from this illness.

A lot of people in this world don't know what Lupus is and we need to bring this disease to the forefront and let people know what it can do to the body. The more money we can raise to help fund this research, to start foundations and do things to raise money that's what we need to do," said Kennison.

One of the other things that Eddie Kennison does is host a fashion show that features Chiefs players and their wives and girl friends. They recently had their 2nd Annual "Showtime!" Changing Lives in Style Fashion Show, Dinner, & Auction on October 25th at the Uptown Theatre to raise money for Lupus awareness. They had another successful event that aided the cause that he is so passionate about.

Despite wanting to help other families suffering from Lupus, Eddie Kennison wanted to give something back to his wife Shimika. She, after all, continues to be the cornerstone of his heart despite her illness. The Quick Start Foundation is as much for her as it for Eddie Kennison. To say it hasn't been trying on Eddie wouldn't be fair. He knows that this disease affects everyone in his family but he wanted to lead by example. It helps that Shimika is active and doing better since being diagnosed three years ago.

"She has her good days and bad days. Lupus still is without a cure and there are medicines that can control the disease but they can make her tired. She's 26 years old has arthritis and she should be able to run around all day. Sometimes she can't walk to the restroom because she's so tired. This disease has so many symptoms that on any given day one of those can pop up and that means she has to go to the Doctor and get another set of medications," said her husband.

That means it's a tough balance for a professional athlete who has demands in his career and within his family. Especially when those responsibilities consist of taking care of a sick wife plus two very young children. That hasn't been easy for Eddie but it's something he knows he has to do. After all, his family is his priority above everything else. That's not a lesson that many professional athletes understand. They think as all of us who get busy with work. They think you'll always have time but for the Kennison family that doesn't apply.

"It's tough but God carries me and shows me the way to give me the knowledge for the things that I need and to be strong for myself and for my family. It's all through the grace of God. Because I need to be at peace with myself when my wife is at home and I'm working. I continue to pray during the day," said Kennison.

But Shimka is a strong person and as Eddie Kennison said to me laughing, "She has to deal with me." Still he knows that she's a constant inspiration and her love is felt each and every day for Eddie and their two sons. "She's a very spiritual lady and she keeps us on track. Every morning I wake up she gives me the power to get up and come to work and provide for my family. Shimika and my boys give me strength. But I wake up in the morning and she's smiling and that always gets me going."

Another person that gives Eddie Kennison strength is Kansas City Chiefs Minister Greg Tyler who came into the room midway through our interview. He is someone who has become very close to Eddie Kennison and his family. He spoke very eloquently about someone who he clearly loves and respects.

"We're both very self motivated individuals. I really love being around him and what he stands for. I love his commitment and what he brings to this team," said Minister Tyler.

In fact, it was Minister Tyler who re-baptized Eddie Kennison before the season began. It was a move to strengthen his faith in God. "My perspective in life is that many people go unfulfilled and not knowing what God's purpose is in life. Eddie and I have spent a lot of time and he's in the process of establishing that purpose. I believe that God blesses these individuals to come out and play at a high level. I believe the real platform goes beyond this endeavor. The reality is when this brother steps out and some one says that Eddie Kennison is going to flock to this place, that its important that Eddie has something to say to them that's wholesome and solid that can benefit them not only today but in the future. I believe that's what this Christian experience is all about."

High praise indeed. In fact, after talking to Minister Tyler it became clear that Eddie Kennison understands that there is more to life than playing football. It's refreshing that a player of his caliber and experiences represents so many great qualities. In the NFL young players don't get it when they break into the NFL or they become infected by the disease of popularity and early success in their careers.

"You look for opportunities and open doors. Often times you learn so much more in the crucible of adversity than we do in the sandy beaches of prosperity. The reality is that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% in how you respond to it. Response is everything," said Minister Tyler.

At that moment Eddie Kennison laughed and then I quipped, ‘I bet you never heard that speech before.' Though we all three were laughing the message was clear and poignant to the Chiefs wide receiver.

"I'm a firm believer in that. They can't be any grey areas when adversity happens. You either respond positively or you don't respond at all. You can't be in between and say I might. You either do it or not," said Kennison.

And that's been Eddie Kennison's nature his entire life and career. He probably has always understood his role and responsibility but he now understands the true meaning of unconditional both at home and on the football field. He has a passion that he shares with his teammates and his family. He has an incredible faith that is excited not between the lines of the gridiron but within the lines between his heart and his faith in God, his family and his teammates.

And that's refreshing to know that Eddie Kennison has his life and priorities on the track of life. After all football is just a game. It's a passion that many Chiefs fans share and it's a unique fraternity that holds high the standards of excellence on the field but it takes someone like Eddie Kennison to take those standards and be convicted enough in his morals and love for his family to be a leader among men.

As Reverend Tyler said about Kennison at the end of the interview rings true. "I believe his best days are ahead of him."

Amen.

Eddie Kennison and his wife, Shimika, formed Quick Start – The Eddie Kennison Foundation in 2003 to make a difference both in the Kansas City area as well as Eddie's hometown of Lake Charles, LA. The organization's focus is two-fold – raising awareness about lupus and giving back to the community through its scholarship program. Shimika has been diagnosed as one of the 1.5 million Americans afflicted with lupus, so the foundation's mission truly hits close to home.

Quick Start - The Eddie Kennison Foundation has partnered with The Alliance for Lupus Research (www.lupusresearch.org) to help find a cure for this debilitating disease. Additionally, the foundation has created scholarships in both Kansas City and Lake Charles. These scholarships afford students the opportunity to pursue their goals through advanced education.

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