In a December game in Seattle against the Seahawks late in the 2015 season, then St. Louis Rams punter Johnny Hekker decided it would be a good idea to hit Seattle defensive end Cliff Avril from the backside after punting the ball downfield.
Hekker came to immediately regret his decision as he cowered to the turn when Avril and Michael Bennett came after him on a later punt in the game.
Three years removed from the play, Hekker and Avril have buried the hatchet over the play and discussed the situation on Avril’s radio show on Sports Radio 950 KJR on Tuesday.
“Oh man, the Chappelle Show had a segment ‘Keeping it real gone wrong.’ That was 100 percent the situation,” Hekker said.
Because of the amount of trick plays on punts the Rams under Jeff Fisher had run against Seattle, the Seahawks elected to play a punt-safe return with most of their usual defensive players on the field. That’s why Avril and Bennett were on the field for a play they otherwise wouldn’t take part in. After the punt, Hekker trailed Avril from behind and dropped him to the turf with a shoulder while Avril wasn’t looking. The play drew a 15-yard penalty.
“It was a perfect hit,” Avril said. “I fall to the ground and I’m like ‘there’s no way it’s the punter’ but that’s the only person behind me because it was a safe punt. So I’m just trotting, next thing I know I just bust my behind. I look up and it’s ‘oh, I’ve got something for you the next go around.
“Then the ref actually comes to our sideline and is like ‘hey, we talked to him’ or whatever and I’m like ‘ok, I’ve still got something for him next time they call safe punt again. So I had to jump at you. And then Mike (Bennett) finds out about it on the sideline and he’s like ‘what? what happened? the punter did it?’ So Mike was really going out for blood.”
Hekker, who grew up in the Seattle suburb of Bothell, said he immediately had friends and family asking him what he was thinking.
“They’re all Seahawks fans,” he said.
Hekker reached out to apologize to Avril after the incident and donated money to his foundation as a gesture of good will, which Avril said ended any animus over the situation right away.
The two then ran into each other in person for the first time at the 2016 Pro Bowl.
“Well it was a deal where him, Richard Sherman and Mike (Bennett) were all standing by the elevator,” Hekker said. “And I kind of like puppy dog walk over like ‘hey guys…’ and I heard Mike just busting up laughing about it.”
“It’s all good,” said Avril. “It’s all squashed. It’s fun. Obviously he’s here, so we’re good to go.”