NFL careers are hard pressed to begin as poorly as Cliff Avril's.
Originally a third-round pick of the Lions, Avril had the misfortune and poor timing of being a rookie on what was, perhaps, the worst team in the history of the league. The Lions went 0-16 in 2008.
"It was a blur and I was a rookie so I didn't really understand how bad we were," he said. "Once we got to the offseason, that's when I realized, 'Wow, I really won zero games.' I was almost embarrassed to say I played for the team at the time."
Now, five seasons removed from that misery and 10 months after leaving Detroit to sign with the Seahawks as a free agent, Avril is about to play for a Super Bowl title.
"That was a heck of a start," the defensive end said. "Going from 0-16 to being here now, it's crazy. It just shows you that you have to continue to work hard and things will definitely work out. It's been a heck of a ride and I'm just glad I'm able to get here."
Avril isn't the only member of that Lions team to make it to the Super Bowl -- he's joined by a pair of Broncos, offensive lineman Manny Ramirez and linebacker Paris Lenon.
It is especially rewarding for Avril because he has often been a victim of circumstances along the way. Not only did he go 0-for his rookie year, he was denied a chance to hit free agency in 2012 (although the franchise tag that was applied paid him $10.65 million from the Lions). On the market last winter, Avril found that the days of long-term, high-money contracts had dried up around the league. He signed with the Seahawks for two years and $13 million.
Then he had to take a reduced role in the defense. A starter his last four seasons in Detroit, Avril has played sparingly as a pass-rushing specialist and started only two games for the Seahawks this season.
"You have to humble yourself and put your pride aside," he said. "You go from playing 80 to 90 percent of the snaps to 30 to 40 percent of the snaps, you definitely have to put your pride aside and do it for the bigger picture and the guys who are in our room."
Avril said the decreased workload has kept him fresher throughout the season. And he did rack up eight sacks in the regular season despite the reduced playing time. In the NFC Championship Game, he had a sack and a forced fumble, catching Colin Kaepernick from behind in the fourth quarter for a key turnover. He had a quarterback hit in all but two of the games he played in this season.
Avril isn't the only defensive end who has thrived under those part-time circumstances. The Seahawks desperately wanted to improve their pass rush last offseason, and the day after Avril signed, the team inked another free-agent defensive end, Michael Bennett. He wound up leading the team in sacks with 8 1/2. A year after posting just 36 sacks and 83 quarterback hits, the 2013 Seahawks had 44 sacks and 102 hits.
"The defense was already pretty good," Avril said of Seattle. "I knew they needed some pass rushers. I just wanted to come and try to fill a little bit of that role. And then Mike Bennett signed, so that definitely made it even better."
Now the goal is to make it the best. At least for this year. And cap Avril's rags to riches career.
"We're not just happy about being in the Super Bowl," he said. "We want to go out there and win it, too. Everybody is hungry on this team."
Especially the guy who starved through his first season.