SEATTLE – It didn’t take long for Cliff Avril to find his new team.
The Seattle Seahawks defensive end suffered a neck injury last October that turned out to be a possible career-ender, and the team released him in May with a failed-physical designation.
He wasn’t unemployed for long. Seattle sports-radio station KJR-AM quickly announced Avril had signed on to be a host on the newly created “Cliff and Puck” show, working alongside longtime KJR host Jason Puckett.
“Here we are,” Avril laughed during an interview with Q13. “I’m a radio host now – 20 pounds lighter.”
The possible end of Avril’s football was frightening, as the neck stingers he suffered in that game against the Colts left his arms numb and his fingers tingling. Tests revealed that he had come dangerously close to being paralyzed.
The unexpected transition was tough.
“The first month month-and-a-half were real difficult,” Avril said. “Just being around the team kinda kept everything together for me, but it’s difficult because I’ve never missed that many games in a season. Mentally, it can be a little hard.
“A big thanks to my wife. I started seeing a therapist too, and I think that was the biggest thing that helped me with the transition.”
Avril said it can be difficult for players to admit they need help as they process the possibility their career could be over – but it many cases, it’s critically important.
“Most athletes, our ego and our pride would actually get in the way of our reaching out for help,” he said. I think it’s the worst thing you can do, personally, because you need help. You’re going through a transition; I’ve been playing football for 17 years. To get to the point where that might be over, dealing with it? My wife doesn’t really understand or know how to get me through it, obviously, from a psychological standpoint. So, getting some help was huge.
“People don’t talk about that; they don’t understand that if you look at it – for me, 17 years of playing football, I’ve been around 50-100 guys for at least 7, 8, 9 months out of the year. And then you go to it just being me and my wife.”
Avril hasn’t conceded his NFL career is over, but so far he hasn’t missed football too much.
“I’m not getting that itch yet for the season, because (training) camp … I mean ... I never really looked forward to it,” he said.
The decision to leave the field for now came in part, Avril said, because he didn’t want to worry about something awful happening while he plays with his children. He had surgery to place a plate in his neck – doctors told him he needed it whether he chose to continue playing or not - but he’s back to 100 percent with a full range of motion.
That challenge behind him, Avril moved on to a new one: Working in the media. He said he’s still learning to balance his fresh memories of battling criticism as a player with his new responsibilities.
He’s already come to believe that the trick is to criticize a player’s performance, not the player himself.
“I’m coming from a different perspective,” Avril said. “Most people haven’t played in the NFL and haven’t been to the locker room. So, I actually know what guys are thinking, I know how guys are processing things, I know the conversations that go on in the locker room. Just having that insight is the plus, I think, to having me on the radio.
“A couple days ago I made some comments about one of the players, and I texted him that weekend and I’m like, ‘listen, I didn’t mean it in that way, I definitely worded it the wrong way.’”
Avril acknowledged its “weird” to interview players who were his teammates a few months ago.
“You know what’s cool about it is we can just have normal dialogue … and it comes off great on camera,” he said. “I’ve been working on it this whole offseason, figuring how to ask questions, the way to get personal but - because I know us as athletes we don’t give too much - give them a little more to make it different than it would be on a different show. But it’s still weird, and you’ve got to keep their trust still as well just finding that balance of the two can be hard.”
The learning curve aside, Avril said he’s enjoying this chapter of his life.
“Being able to travel with my family on the weekends,” he said. “We’re going to be out of here, we’re going to go see every one of my friends play this year. “That’s the goal - we’re going to try to see at least one game from (Michael Bennett, Richard Sherman and Brandon Mebane), all these guys.
“I got to go see all of them play at least once and be a fan for once. I’ve never actually been able to be a fan I’ve never gone to a football game yeah I’ve never been to a football game I didn’t actually play in so just being a fan I’m looking forward to that.”