Through three quarters of Super Bowl 49, all aspects of the game were going in Cliff Avril’s favor.
The Seahawks were beating the New England Patriots and Avril was helping them do it by routinely harassing quarterback Tom Brady.
Then, with a bang on one play, it was gone.
Avril, a defensive end, sustained a concussion late in the third quarter and did not return. With Avril out, Brady threw two touchdowns, and completed 13 of 15 passes for 116 yards in the fourth quarter to rally the Patriots from a 10-point deficit to win, 28-24.
The memory still stings, Avril said recently in Hawkinsville, Georgia.
“It was real disappointing,” he said. “All of us are competitors; all of us want to be out there to help our team win in any kind of way. For me not to be able to finish one of the biggest games you’ll ever play in, it sucked.”
Short term, the injury hurt the Seahawks’ chances to win back-to-back Super Bowls. But the larger, and longer term, physical issue of having a concussion was too great of a risk for him to keep playing, Avril said.
“I’m glad the docs decided to not put me back in,” Avril said. “Concussions aren’t anything to play with.”
With the attention the NFL has received in recent years concerning the effects of concussions, a new protocol was enacted. It calls upon doctors to test players for head injuries after any large blow.
But it’s not an exact science, as the Super Bowl showed. Patriots receiver Julian Edelman received a hit to the head in the fourth quarter, but continued to play.
Edelman went on to catch the winning touchdown, even though questions arose whether he should have been on the field in the first place.
And after Russell Wilson’s interception on the goal line in the closing seconds, the Seahawks lost their chance at a repeat.
Wilson, entering his fourth year as the Seahawks’ quarterback, finds himself amid a whirlwind of contract negotiations; under the status quo, he will enter the final year of his rookie contract set to receive $1.54 million in 2015.
Avril said re-signing Wilson remains a priority for a Seattle team seeking to make more Super Bowl runs.
“I think he deserves everything he’s going to get,” Avril said of Wilson. “He wins; he’s been to the Super Bowl back-to-back years — won one. And that’s all in three seasons in the NFL. He’s done more than a lot of these quarterbacks. So, hopefully they figure it out. I think he’s definitely the quarterback of the future of the Seahawks.”
For Avril, the victory in the 2014 Super Bowl was especially gratifying because of his NFL experience before joining the Seahawks. After being selected as the 92nd overall pick in the third round of the 2008 NFL draft by the Detroit Lions, Avril did not experience much team success.
The Lions didn’t win a game his first season, becoming the first team to go winless since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976.
During his five-year stay in Detroit, Avril suffered through four losing seasons and an overall record of 22-58.
“It was amazing, man — especially how my career went,” Avril said of the Seahawks’ Super Bowl victory. “As a rookie, I went 0-16 in Detroit, and then to go to the Super Bowl two years back-to-back, it’s been a huge blessing.”
But what about the possibility of two Super Bowl rings and appearances in three NFL championship games? It’s almost too much to ask.
“Who wouldn’t want to repeat (reaching the Super Bowl)?” Avril asked with a laugh. “Of course, we want to repeat, but we want to go ahead and make it happen this year; we have pretty much the same guys.”
When: Rookies and veterans report July 30
Where: Virginia Mason Athletic Center, Renton