One of the most underrated players in the Super Bowl is defensive end Cliff Avril—smart guy, good player, solid dude. More on that in a moment. First, what he says about the atmosphere of the Seattle Seahawks is instructive because it's a big part of why they win.
Avril spent most of his career in Detroit, coming to Seattle at the beginning of this season as a free agent. What's the difference between the Detroit Lions and the Seahawks?
"Detroit was always all business," said Avril in an interview with Bleacher Report. "Not chill. Blue collar. Go to work, practice, go home."
And the Seahawks?
"I've never seen an environment where a coach is able to get you to focus and do your job," said Avril, "while also keeping everything very chill. We know how to work hard while also knowing how to relax."
At the Seattle complex, music blares before and after every team meeting. The coaches play the music over the speakers. For most coaches around the NFL, this is a no-no. In Seattle, this is chill.
The middle of the week is what the team calls Competition Wednesday, and the Seahawks move to an area where there's a basketball hoop. Then, the competition begins. Many times, it will be position group versus position group, say two offensive linemen against two defensive linemen. The two teams will have 30 seconds to make as many baskets as possible from an NBA regulation three-point line.
"We relax, but at the same time (coach Pete Carroll) gets his point across," said Avril, "which is you should always be competing."
That is what Avril has long done. Of all the free-agent signings this past offseason, his is one of the more unknown, yet important. No, he wasn't Peyton Manning going from Indianapolis to Denver, but he provided some of the bigger plays for Seattle all year.
In the playoff game against New Orleans, it was Avril who stripped quarterback Drew Brees of the football in a crucial play. He also had a fourth-quarter strip sack of Colin Kaepernick in the title game. This is what Avril did a lot of in Detroit, and few noticed.
"To be in the Super Bowl considering where I was just six years ago is pretty amazing," Avril said.
Avril spent five years with the Lions, where in 2008 he was on the Detroit team that went 0-16. He made the playoffs just once prior to this season.
"That was a nightmare," he said.
Yet, after that, here he is. In the biggest game of all.