BY Art Thiel 06:28PM 11/30/2017

Thiel: Bond between Bennett, Avril go past team

Not long after Cliff Avril helped Michael Bennett through an ordeal, Bennett is returning the favor with his good friend by helping him navigate a career-threatening health trauma.

DEs Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett arrive together in Atlanta QB Matt Ryan’s personal space to disrupt a pass in the 2016 game at the Clink against the Falcons. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

All that needs to be known about the relationship between Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril is who was first to show up to Bennett’s hotel room after he had been held, face down and handcuffed, on a Las Vegas curb with a police firearm point at his head.

“He was definitely shook like I’ve never seen him — frantic and frightened about his situation,” Avril said in early September, shortly after Bennett told his story on social media of being briefly detained and released by police after reports of a shooter caused a panic in a casino. Both Seahawks had attended the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor fight Aug. 27.

“We spent two hours talking, until like five in the morning,” Avril said. “His mind was going so many different ways. I was trying to calm him down.

“I wanted to make sure he reached out to his family before he did anything. I didn’t want him to make the wrong move. That was my advice: ‘Bro, think this thing through. Come up with a game plan.’”

Now it is Bennett doing and saying what he can to help Avril manage a health crisis.

“Not to have him out there on the football field is always devastating, but to see what he is going through personally is more devastating,” said Bennett, breaking the informal protocol around the NFL about players shying away from honest assessments about injury consequences.

Avril had surgery Tuesday to repair a disc in his neck damaged Oct. 1 when he was inadvertently kicked in the chin during an attempted tackle against the Colts. He tweeted that the operation was successful, and was confirmed by coach Pete Carroll.

“I talk to Cliff every day,” Bennett said Thursday before practice at the VMAC. “I was making fun of him when he got out of surgery. But we’re brothers, so I sent him good gifts in the hospital. Injuries are a part of the game, but it doesn’t make it easier to accept . . . we have to be able to care for our people.”

In a highly transient business, Avril and Bennett have formed a five-year friendship that might be the closest one on the team. Intelligent men with intense social consciences, their stellar play anchoring Seattle’s defense with Pro Bowl-recognized skills is a secondary part of their relationship.

“I think it’s really hard,” Bennett said. “In this league, you come in and it’s hard to build relationships with people. But I think the relationship that me and Cliff have is a family-type of relationship where we’re really close as brothers.”

All players know the end of a lucrative, exhilarating career is a random moment away. Avril, 32 in April, has been fortunate to survive 10 seasons in the NFL before confronting his reckoning.

“You want to be able to walk away from the game the way you want to walk away from the game,” Bennett said. “To suffer an injury of any magnitude, especially one of those where you could’ve easily been paralyzed, is something that you have to be able to try to move past. I think it’s a hard thing to do.

“It’s always devastating to lose a guy and not know his future. His future is uncertain. Nobody knows what is going to happen. I take that personally. At the end, it’s just hard.”

As with many players, Bennett is sensitive to the sentiment among some fans that injuries are simply a bloodless part of the calculus for their fantasy-league gambling aspirations.

“A lot of times fans aren’t connected to the injury part of the game,” he said. “They’re more connected to whether their fantasy league points are up high, or if their fantasy league points are low. When guys (have) life-altering injuries — I’m not talking about an Achilles or an ACL, I’m talking about neck injuries — those are the type that can last forever.

“Fans don’t understand what you go through personally. So for him and me, and the rest of the guys, it’s a personal journey that we’re going through with him as he goes through it; making sure that he has a lot of people who care about him. This is a great organization that continuously shows that they care about their injured players, and unlike most teams in the NFL.”

Don’t ask Bennett for his recollection of who did what to whom in any particular game.

“I don’t remember all the games,” he said. “I remember the relationships that I’ve become a part of, whether it was Big Red (Bryant), Brandon Mebane, Kevin Williams and Dwight Freeney. Those are the memories that I want to take with me.

“Trophies fade away. The relationships that you build in that locker room are some that will (last forever), because you went through and experienced things that most people in America could never really understand.

“We’re humbled and grateful for every time that we get to see each other.”

As participants in a dangerous game played in dangerous times, whether it’s a hotel room or a hospital room, little is better than the sight and sound of a good friend.


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YourThoughts

  • DJ

    Strong stuff! I can totally relate to having a dream job, but when that’s done what I have left are the relationships that I formed there – some will be life long. I think it also speaks to the success of the Seahawks’ organization as being one that is such a positive environment which not only breeds success, it allows strong friendships to be formed.

    A lot of humanity shows up in this article. I appreciate that guys like Bennett will let you in and see that side.

    Regarding fantasy league fan mentality, I’m a team fan, much the same way that I find the composition of a music album more important than just downloading the individual songs. There’s so much cool stuff going on in the player composition of teams, the formations called, and the matchups between teams, that I refuse to dilute that by getting caught up in the fantasy league craze. Therefore, I just want Bennett to know that there are fans out there that aren’t blinded by the fantasy gambling aspect and do care about the players and their welfare.

    Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril are a real blessing and amaze me that they could continue to perform at such a high level (when healthy) even after being distracted by getting the big paychecks and dedicating themselves to their social causes. Best to both of them, and especially to Cliff on his recovery and future!

    Thanks Art!

  • Tman

    Your ability to bring the human feelings to machine like sports is welcome and appreciated. We are often unable to see even the faces of the people wearing the helmets, face masks, body armor, ads, emblems and symbols..You do. Thank you

  • jafabian

    This is why letting Dwight Freeney go might later be second guessed. The Hawks quick acquisition of him seemed to impress Bennett and he doesn’t easily impress. Freeney took the heat off Bennett as he quickly became the target of double teams. I get the needed acquisitions of Duane Brown and Byron Maxwell played a role in the decision but I’d think there’d be some barely used players who could have been released. Especially ones who keep getting placed on the healthy inactive list. The Bennett and Avril tandem are right there with Manu Tuiassoppo and Robert ” Heartburn” Hardy, Jacob Green and Jeff Bryant, and Cortez Kennedy with Michael Sinclair. I hope we can see Cliff take the field again but I’d rather see him be able to continue a long and healthy life.