There aren’t many football fans happier than Lincoln Kennedy these days.
His alma mater, Washington, is 8-0 and possibly barreling toward a College Football Playoff berth after a huge 24-17 road win over Utah last Saturday.
And the Oakland Raiders, the team Kennedy played for from 1996 to 2003, are tied with defending Super Bowl champion Denver atop the AFC West standings at 6-2.
Kennedy, a consensus All-American for the Huskies in 1992, was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2015. He was also a three-time Pro Bowler during his NFL career, which included three seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, the team that drafted him in 1993 with the ninth overall pick.
These days, Kennedy is a broadcaster for Fox Sports Radio on the Premiere Radio Networks. He has a weekend show with co-host Anthony Gargano. He is also a color commentator for Raiders Radio and the Pac-12 Network.
We caught up with Kennedy to talk about the big season the Huskies are having.
FM: What was the most impressive aspect of Washington’s big 31-24 road win over Utah on Saturday?
LK: I guess when you show the resiliency of all three phases cooperating — especially with the punt return for the difference in the game. It was really refreshing to know that this team is mature enough and resilient enough to find a way in any capacity — even in a tough situation — to win. Because Utah gave them all they could handle, they really did. I was really impressed with the way they were able to pull out the win in the end — especially by way of a punt return.
FM: The Huskies are No. 27 in rushing offense in FBS. How nice is it to see strong offensive line play this season? I know you can appreciate that.
LK: Certainly. Without a doubt. One of my biggest criticisms of the team coming into the season, from what I saw last season, and I said it on the Pac-12 Network, is I would love to see this team go more forward. They did a lot of zone runs, which are side-to-side runs where you’re looking for a hole [last year]. They’ve got a big offensive line, so show the power that this offensive line possesses. Because I’ve seen that throughout this year, and they have a decent run game because of that — moving forward and being aggressive, not only in the play-calling but also in the execution.
LK: You know what, as much as I’ve been around him in recent years, especially when he got in the program, he reminds me so much of [former Washington Head Coach] Don James. I say that with a lot of high praise, because one of the things I always loved about Coach James, may he rest in peace, was the fact he tried to create good men, aside from football players. Character was a really big part of his program. It was evident not only in what he strived for us to do in the classroom, but also for us to be part of in the community, and the way people responded to him. He was just well-respected as a coach. The trickle-down effect became we were well-respected as players and as young men. To me, that’s what Coach Pete has notoriously done. He did it at Boise State. It’s no surprise he’s turned the [Washington] program around. The magnitude is definitely a surprise, but it’s no surprise, to me, the program has moved in the right direction. It was very gutsy of him to put a number of true freshmen out there last year. You don’t have a lot of coaches in Division I who would do that, even if they have to. It was also out of necessity, but he trusted his recruiting process. He trusted the type of guys they brought in to put that type of pressure on them. Look how it’s done. They finished 7-6 last year, but now they’re the fourth-ranked and one of the best teams in the country.
FM: What’s the best part of the game day experience at Husky Stadium?
LK: The first time I was ever part of the “tailgating experience” is when we went back recently for the 25th anniversary of the national championship team. I don’t know why I never tailgated before. I don’t recall. I don’t get up to Husky Stadium as often as I want because of my schedule. Being able to go there, and it was on a Friday so there was a break in my schedule so I could go and take part, the biggest part of it is just the visual awe the stadium setting puts you in. It’s absolutely immaculate. When you catch Seattle any time there’s sunshine, it’s one of the more beautiful cities in the country. You talk about the setting of being on Lake Washington, and you see all of the boats pull up. You see how they connect the boats to where you have one big, long bridge where you can walk from boat to boat. They allow you on your boat so you can walk and get to the shoreline. That, combined with the setting, the atmosphere and Seattle is a great sports town … it all adds up to a memorable experience. And then you qualify that by having good football … what else could you possibly ask for?
FM: What element of becoming a broadcaster surprised you the most?
LK: I had no idea I was going to go into broadcasting. When I first came in, I was hired by the NFL Network. I thought, “Hey, I’m making good money getting to talk on TV about football.” But then, after a while, it wasn’t as gratifying or rewarding as I wanted it to be. The reason was, even in the offseason, sometimes there’s really nothing there, there’s nothing to talk about. You can only break down and analyze so many times when Brett Favre is going to retire. That was the time I came in. You’d go into a production meeting and it was, “We’re going to talk about possible big names in free agency and when do you think Brett Favre is going to retire?” Again? When I look back at that time, I started questioning, “Did I do the right thing? Should I be looking for another choice?”
Then, I got into the radio market and sports talk radio. And I realized that, in radio especially, you have to be well-versed in all sports because you couldn’t just talk football all of the time. You could, but it would be boring radio. No program director wanted that. Then, it became challenging to pick up periodicals and learn about baseball, to learn about hockey. I knew about football and basketball. Those were the sports I grew up with, but to know about these other sports, both on the collegiate and professional level, and to learn about golf, to learn about tennis, to learn about NASCAR racing … that’s when broadcasting became a passion I wanted to do.
The most important factor of it, which I tell young, possible broadcasters, is you have to develop your own voice and your own ideology. What I mean by that is, as popular as sports talk is these days, listeners don’t want to hear a homer. They don’t want to hear somebody who only talks about Washington or glows about Washington, in my case, or glows about the Oakland Raiders. They want you to be impartial. They want you to talk about Wazzu. And, trust me, Washington State is difficult for me. It’s challenging to say some good things about Washington State, to say some good things about Oregon or, conversely, to say some good things about the Denver Broncos or the Kansas City Chiefs. And so to try to remain impartial and my voice, the way I developed it, is I call it like I see it. So, if you played like crap, and I don’t care if you’re the program from which I’m alumni, the University of Washington, or the Oakland Raiders, I’m going to say you played like crap. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. I’m not going to water it down. I’m not going to feed you something that you won’t believe. I call it like I see it. And I’ve come to realize that people respect that about me. That’s part of developing your own voice. And it’s been fun to do that because it’s still a process.