Eagles Release Veteran Guard Steve Kenney

Posted: August 27, 1986

Steve Kenney slung a bag of used football shoes over his left shoulder early yesterday morning, pushed open the Veterans Stadium door and squinted through red, watery eyes into the sunlight.

He never imagined that it would end that way. They never do.

"I'm trying not to think too much about anything right now," he said, fighting back the emotion after learning that the Eagles had ended his six- year career in Philadelphia by releasing him. "I have a lot of memories. . . . I got out of that locker room as quick as I could. My head's spinning a little bit.

"I've never claimed to be a superstar. I've never been a spectacular player. I'm not the best athlete in the world. But I always felt like, when you added up the pluses and the minuses, there were a lot more pluses than minuses. I've just been solid and steady."

For coach Buddy Ryan, solid and steady were not good enough to rescue Kenney from his inevitable fate, a fate that claimed eight more Eagles yesterday when NFL teams were required to reduce their rosters to 50.

Also cut from the squad were running back Bobby Howard, kicker Chris O'Brien, linebacker Thomas Carter, tight end Jonathan Harvey, strong safety Doran Major, defensive end Jeff Smith and wide receiver Jeff Weeks.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of all the moves was a decision by Ryan to place offensive tackle Kevin Allen - the team's first-round draft choice in 1985 - on a reserve list that will make him ineligible for the first six weeks of the season unless he clears waivers.

But the transaction that elicited the most emotion was the release of Kenney, a free-agent offensive lineman from Clemson who personified the overachieving nature of the successful Eagles teams of the early 1980s.

A starter for the last five seasons, Kenney lost his job with the first offensive unit on the basis of Ryan's analysis of last season's game films, and the durable guard made only a couple of brief, uneventful appearances during the Eagles' three preseason games.

"He took the bat out of my hands," Kenney said of Ryan. "I never got up to the plate. . . . He thinks other guys are better than me, and I don't. What the heck? What can I say? Obviously, I'm not very happy about everything.

"I don't think I was in his plans from the beginning. I just think, from the start, he was trying to replace me. I was surprised I wasn't released last week. I've had a lot of signals. When you're running third string, you're 30 years old and you've been starting for five years, that's a pretty good signal."

Although Ryan had branded the left-guard position as one that would require a significant upgrading almost from the day he became head coach last January, the coach said he was trying to serve Kenney's best interests by making the move yesterday.

"I was going to wait till next week," Ryan said. "I did try to trade him - no interest. But he told me that Green Bay was interested and had been talking to his agent. He thought if I let him go, he could catch on there.

"So I said, 'Fine.' See, I'm not all bad."

Nevertheless, Kenney became so distressed at his plummeting fortunes under Ryan that he walked out of training camp for two weeks earlier this summer, and he said yesterday that he returned only because he didn't want to leave football under such bitter circumstances.

"I had mixed emotions when I showed up the first time because I knew I had been demoted at that stage of the game," he recalled. "I felt like maybe they ought to let me go and hook up somewhere else, but that didn't happen.

"Then, when I came back the second time, I think I was mentally ready for everything. I just said, 'The hell with them. I'm going to do the best I can and see what happens.' In fact, when I came back the second time, I felt pretty confident that I was going to get my old job back. It didn't work out that way."

So late yesterday, Kenney flew back home to Raleigh, N.C., and was planning to return to his father's real-estate business - unless, of course, there was one more chance to rewrite the last chapter of his football career.

"I'd still like to play," he said. "If I can get with a club that I can enjoy, that wants me, I'd love to play a couple of more years. I know I can play as well as I've ever played.

"I've had a heck of a time. I haven't enjoyed every minute of it, but most of them I have. I never cared for practice too much or long, boring meetings, or some coaches, but the games have been fun and the in-between have been fun. I've enjoyed it."

Kenney made no attempt to mask his feelings as he left Philadelphia, his career in disarray largely because of circumstances he could not control. If former Eagles coach Marion Campbell had stayed, Steve Kenney would, no doubt, still be the team's starting left guard.

But yesterday was not a day to grouse over ill fortune so much as it was a day for some philosophical reflection.

"This is not the way I wanted it to end," Kenney said. "But when you hit the ground, you've got to bounce up. And that's what I'm going to do."

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