It’s 1979. Welcome to Steve Kenney’s life.
An undrafted rookie guard from Clemson, his best opportunity to impress Philadelphia’s coaches during Training Camp was to perform well in drills and scrimmages. To make that just a tad more difficult, he had to do so while lining up every day across from future Hall of Fame defensive end Claude Humphrey.
“I had some success blocking him and I think that’s why I made the team,” Kenney said. “He ran into me years later and said, ‘They kept you because I couldn’t intimidate you. And then there were guys like (offensive linemen) Wade Key, Jerry Sisemore and Stan Walters, who were great guys and took me under their wing.
“They helped project a sense of confidence, I guess. They would help a guy like me and tell me I was doing well or help me to believe I could do the job. They became some of my very best friends.”
Kenney spent the first year watching his new pals from the sideline after being placed on the season-long injury list. Healthy in 1980, he made the active roster and saw playing time sooner than he expected -- a lot sooner. We’re talking the first quarter of the season opener against Denver.
“I was the backup tackle and Jerry Sisemore got knocked unconscious on the first or second play,” Kenney said. “I remember getting in the huddle and (quarterback Ron) Jaworski looked at me, my nickname was ‘Redman,’ and he said, ‘Redman! What are you doing in the huddle?’ I said, ‘Well, I didn’t have anything else to do today. I thought I’d come out here,’”
Kenney couldn’t have chosen a much better time to begin hanging out with Jaws and the guys in the huddle. The Eagles notched 12 wins during the 1980 campaign, won the NFC title and met the Raiders in Super Bowl XV.
What was the key to Philadelphia’s success?
“Good coaching, good players and good chemistry,” Kenney said. “I felt like the players were very tight-knit and we were on a mission that year. It was my first active year so I probably wasn’t as zeroed in on it as some of the guys who had been there losing all those years. But I would say through Coach (Dick) Vermeil’s efforts, the team was definitely on a mission, had a sense of purpose.”
Becoming the starting left guard during his third year, Kenney lined up between Walters, the 10-year veteran tackle, and ninth-year center Guy Morriss, and held his own against some of the best the NFL had to offer.
“In ‘82, we played Dallas down there and beat them and I had a good game against Randy White, who was their best player,” Kenney said. “I was able to shut him out and that really made me feel that I really belonged in the league, that I could play against anybody.
“I barely got a scholarship to college and then the fact that I became a full-time starter in the NFL, I was real proud of that. I took it very seriously and I loved doing it. I loved being a player and I got a lot of personal satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment out of it.”
Kenney has accomplished a great deal since his six seasons with the Eagles and one with the Detroit Lions. Retiring in 1987, he returned to his hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina, where he started a real estate development company, Kenney Properties.
“I wanted to go into real estate when I got out of school and then I decided to give the pros a try. So it was eight years before I got into real estate,” Kenney said. “I really didn’t know much about what I was doing. I didn’t have a salary or anything and by 1990, I was broke.
“But I got started and developed single-family subdivisions and in the mid-’90s, I began to transition into developing apartment communities. We own and operate student apartments across the southeast as well as conventional apartments. Students, we count by the bed and the conventionals, we count by the units. So either way, we sign leases with about 3,000 people each year.
“We have about 100 employees and have projects in both of the Carolinas, Georgia and Tennessee. We’ve got a site in Kentucky on the drawing board. And then we’re about to start a new apartment community and a shopping center down in the triangle (Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, North Carolina), where I live.”
What does Kenney enjoy about his second career?
“I enjoy several things about the business,” he said. “I don’t enjoy all of it, but I’ve always enjoyed putting deals together. I’m one of those crazy people that like negotiating. I enjoy the challenge of putting deals together and seeing a project from raw land to its final completion where you open the door.
“We’re in multiple markets and so I’ve gotten to make a lot of friends across the southeast. I enjoy that, I enjoy the people. I just turned 60 and I hope to have a 15-year run on new projects. I cannot say I enjoy working with the government getting permits. That’s a little challenging. I wish the people that make the laws knew what it was like to get a permit. They might change things a little bit.”
Kenney is the proud father of two adult children. Stephen, who is one year away from earning a PhD in psychology at George Washington University, and Lesley, who is studying to become a physician assistant at Wake Forest University.