Friday, June 19, 2009

Great Sports Name Hall of Fame Nominee - Isaiah Kacyvenski

It's Unsung Player Day today, and as such time to give tribute to the kind of players that don't get all the press. Since the NBA is in season, most of the focus is on NBA role players, but since I don't know a ton about the NBA outside my beloved Celtics, I'm going to look at an NFL player who never got the kudos he deserved. So ladies and gents, I bring to you Isaiah Kacyvenski.

The fact that Kacyvenski even made it to the NFL is a tribute to his bravery and persistence. He grew up the youngest of five children in Endicott, NY to a loving mother and an alcoholic/sometimes abusive father. At 9 his parents were divorced and he lived with his mom, at 13 she left to do missionary work and he was back living with his Dad. Several years later Kacyvenski's life hit an ultimate low, as his mother was killed walking along a roadside during one of Isaiah's biggest high school football games. Overcome with emotion, he dropped to his knees and cried.

However, Isaiah still played in that game, as well as a lot of other future games. At the end of his senior year, Harvard University Coach Tim Murphy called offering an academic scholarship. Isaiah shined at the Ivy league school, winning Ivy League Rookie of the Year during his freshman season and All Ivy first team his second two years. Kacyvenski even graduated with a pre med degree, cum laude, so he was quite the college student.

Kacyvenski parlayed this college success into a 2000 4th Round selection by the Seattle Seahawks. His first two seasons he was mostly a special teams guy/role player (and an excellent pick up in Madden given his name and Harvard lineage), but in his third season he finally started and had 71 tackles and an interception in 9 games. Injuries ended that season, however, and it would be another two years before he started, this time 13 of 16 games. The following year, still with the team as a backup linebacker/special teamer, the Seahawks went to the Super Bowl and lost to the Steelers. About 7 months later, Kacyvenski was released and picked up by the Rams, for whom he played 10 games. He was signed by the Raiders that next off season, but injuries came back again and Kacyvenski was released with an injury settlement.

Kacyvenski took a year to rehabilitate in 2007, but Dr. James Andrews recommended that Kacyvenski ought not play again at the risk of even worse damage. So in 2008 Isiah officially, and sadly, retired. Interesting notes since his retirement include that Kacyvenski is one of 6 ex NFL players to promise his brain to the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy post mortem so that the center can study the effects of concussions on the human brain. Additionally, Isaiah went on Oprah in 2007 to talk about his formerly abusive father, and how they had reconciled over time (The elder Kacyvenski actually attended Isaiah's graduation for him since Isaiah had preseason workouts and could not attend).

Isaiah was never the linebacking stud that Derrick Brooks or Ray Lewis were. However, overcoming childhood abuse and a mother's death to become not only a 7 year NFL veteran but also a Harvard graduate cum laude is impressive. Since I had only known Kacyvenski as a middling Seahawks linebacker before doing any research, I would call the man unsung. So let us celebrate the man they call Isaiah Kacyvenski for the great life he has made for himself, and for the great name that we now nominate for Ballot 3 of the Great Sports Name Hall of Fame.

To see the best sports names of all time, visit the Truly Great Names page.
To see some good sports names that were voted out, visit the Good Names page.
To see the current voting ballot, visit the Ballot page.

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