Before they would become Super Bowl champs or best friends or Pro Bowlers, there was a time when Cliff Avril wanted to punch Michael Bennett.
The two were in the midst of their first season with the Seahawks, and up to that point Avril's laid-back demeanor hadn't quite meshed with Bennett's—how should we put this—more interesting personality. It also didn't help that both players, despite enjoying team success with the Seahawks, were both a bit frustrated at times about playing smaller roles in Seattle's defense than they were used to having on their previous teams.
So when Bennett decided to critique Avril's pass rush during an eventual 33-10 win in Atlanta, Avril wasn't interested in hearing it.
"I wanted to fight Mike when I first got here," said Avril, who along with Bennett, Bobby Wagner and Richard Sherman was named to the NFC Pro-Bowl roster Tuesday. "We got into it in the Atlanta game when we first got here because I didn't understand the type of person he was. He's always joking around, he's just a prankster and whatnot. I'm not really into that—'I don't really know you that well, so we don't have that kind of relationship.'… He just said something about pass rushing, and I'm like, 'Bro, I know how to pass rush.' We were both in our feelings, not playing as much as we would have liked. So we went back and forth a little bit, I got mad, I could have probably swung on him, but thank God I didn't."
By the time the Seahawks arrived at the airport following that game, however, Avril and Bennett were on their way to forming a close friendship and on-field partnership that has become vital to the Seahawks' defensive success.
"That made us stronger, because right after we got in the argument, we win the game, we get on the bus, and he's like, 'Now I've got to tell my wife she can't be friends with your wife,'" Avril said. "He made a little joke, and it was all good from that point on. We've been cool ever since… We kind of just grew to understand each other and now we're the best of friends."
The best of friends now have a chance to be Pro Bowl teammates, with Bennett earning that honor for the second straight year and Avril earning it for the first time in his nine-year career—though of course both hope to have a Super Bowl conflict keeping them from actually playing in the game. And it's fitting that when Avril finally got his Pro Bowl dues, Bennett was also named to the team, because those two have traveled such a connected path since the spring of 2013.
After the 2012 Seahawks saw their season end in a playoff loss at Atlanta, head coach Pete Carroll made it clear that one of his team's biggest offseason priorities was upgrading its pass rush. So it wasn't much of a surprise that the Seahawks landed Avril in free agency that March, but what was a bit unexpected was Seattle signing Bennett, who along with Avril was considered one of the best free-agent pass-rushers available, one day later. Since then the two have helped the Seahawks win a Super Bowl, earned new, multi-year contracts and become Pro Bowlers, all while becoming close friends along the way.
"It's pretty cool to see how we both trained together, how we both got here at the same time, contract situations and different things have occurred while we've been here, and look at where we're at right now as far as some of the things we've been able to accomplish." Avril said. "It's pretty cool. It's like a brother relationship that we have. For both of us to be doing some good things, it's pretty cool."
And while Bennett and Avril might have taken a little bit of time to form the kind of friendship they now have, their impact on the team was immediate.
"They just brought leadership, brought swag, brought energy," Wagner said. "They challenged you to be great. They're two guys who are great at what they do, and they force you to up your game too."
With Avril earning his first Pro-Bowl nod a year after Bennett received the honor for the first time, Bennett knows what Avril is feeling and is thrilled for his friend and teammate to finally get that recognition in season in which he has already established a career-high with 11.5 sacks.
"Cliff is super happy, and everybody around the building is happy for him, because everybody knows he deserves it," Bennett said. "He has been a great player for numerous years and to finally get the recognition, even though he doesn't need the recognition, it's always good to have something like that on your résumé."
Bennett is even happy for Avril this week while he also in part holds his friend responsible for the flag he drew in last week's game while celebrating a sack.
"Cliff had everything to do with that, him and Frank (Clark)," Bennett said with a smile. "They should have stopped me. Good friends stop friends from doing stuff like that."
Avril admits he was encouraging Bennett during the, um, suggestive dance, but says it's on Bennett to know that rule.
"I was hyped, he was hyped, and he went for it," Avril said. "That's on him."
For Avril, this first Pro Bowl recognition is particularly meaningful because so many of his teammates were pushing strongly for him to receive the honor.
"It's cool, it's awesome," Avril said. "Sherm and those guys, for the last 10 weeks, they've been like, 'Hey, I'm going to push for you, we're going to do this, do that,' because they felt like I should have maybe made it last year or what not. For them to get behind me and to feel like I'm one of the top D-ends in the league, it's pretty cool, because they're definitely the top at their position. It's cool to be amongst the greatness."
Bennett and Avril have both been a part of the greatness since arriving in Seattle in 2013, even if they almost had to fight before they could become best friends.
Defensive ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, cornerback Richard Sherman, and linebacker Bobby Wagner have been voted to the 2017 Pro Bowl, while linebacker K.J. Wright, tight end Jimmy Graham, and receiver Doug Baldwin have been named to the game as injury replacements.