Sunday's Super Bowl in Arizona will be a big day for the Den of Defensive Ends from Purdue. Another Boilermaker will get a Super Bowl ring, as Purdue has regularly had players in the Super Bowl in recent seasons. Either Rob Ninkovich of the Patriots will get his first ring during a lengthy career that seems to be peaking or Cliff Avril will get a second straight ring. Let's look back at their Purdue careers for a moment.
Rob Ninkovich - Rob came to Purdue during the height of the Tiller era. Listed as a 6'3" 251 pound defensive end, he was a JuCo transfer from Joliet Junior College where he was a middle-rated recruit. He was a third-team JuCo All-American who had originally attended Lincoln-Way Central HS in the Chicago area.
The 2004 season was his first in West Lafayette and he was immediately productive. He finished that year with eight sacks, 23 tackles, and four pass break-ups. His best game was probably the infamous 41-16 beatdown the Boilers handed Notre Dame in South Bend where he had two sacks of Brady Quinn and even caught a two-yard TD pass from Kyle Orton in a goal line situation. The TD is in the following video, but I know Purdue fans will enjoy it anyway:
Rob also really liked play IU, as he racked up four sacks in the 2004 Bucket Game, which was an unmerciful 63-24 win where Purdue could have scored 90 if it had felt like it.
Rob had a good 2005 season with eight more sacks and a couple of interceptions even though Purdue lost six straight games and failed to make a bowl after beginning the season as a top 15 team. Rob was a second team all-Big Ten selection and he caught a second TD in the win over Illinois. Once again, he sacked the Indiana quarterback four times in a 41-14 win in Bloomington, meaning half of his 16 collegiate sacks came against the Hoosiers.
His career got him picked in the fifth round by the Saints, but he only last three games before a knee injury ended his 2006 season. He was injured again the following preseason and was waived by the team. The Dolphins picked him up and he managed to play in four games with limited stats. The next year he moved to outside linebacker, which was the best move of his career.
He only played in one game for the Dolphins in 2008 and was briefly re-signed by New Orleans before getting released again. That's when the Patriots found him. In 2009 he finally played a full NFL season and finished with 23 tackles. After playing in just eight games in his first three seasons for two different teams he played in 15 games for New England in 2009. He has not missed a game since.
Ninkovich has had 8 sacks in each of the past three seasons and has 35.5 for his career in New England. He also has 12 fumble recoveries, five interceptions, and a touchdown as the Patriots best pass-rushing linebacker. If you watched the AFC title game a few weeks ago he was constantly in the face of Andrew Luck and forcing him into poor throws. He is thriving in their system as an outside pass rusher and will have a large role in Sunday's game.
Cliff Avril - Cliff was listed as the exact same size as Ninkovich when he was at Purdue and came n at roughly the same time. He went the opposite as Ninkovich as he started his career as alinebacker before moving to defensive end. His first season was 2004 out of Clay HS in Green Cove Springs, Florida when he appeared in all 12 games as a freshman and started four times. He had 36 tackles and half a sack while forcing a fumble in the Sun Bowl against Arizona State. The next season he started four more times at linebacker and had 33 tackles. It wasn't until 2006 that he moved to defensive end, but he thrived after the move. He started in all 14 games and notched six sacks. He broke up four passes at Hawaii and earned Defensive Player of the Week for the Big Ten that week. He also had 84 tackles and an interception.
Avril has been productive in every year of his NFL career. He spent five years in Detroit with at least five sacks every season, topping out at 11 in 2011. He then went and got himself paid by the Seahawks. In the offseason before 2013 Seattle signed him to a two-year, $13 million contract and it paid off with eight sacks and five forced fumbles. He also sacked Peyton Manning for a safety just 12 seconds into last year's Super Bowl for the fastest score in Super Bowl history.
This past season Cliff had five sacks, but has recorded a sack in every playoff game so far. He has further gotten paid with a four-year, $28.5 million extension to his expiring contract that he signed on December 19th.
Both Cliff and Rob are thriving at a time when Purdue football needs some good news. This is the 13th time in the last 16 years that at least one Purdue player will be on the Super Bowl champion team (I should also note that Greg Orton is on Injured reserve for New England after spending several years on the practice squad for Denver). Even in the three years that Purdue did not have a Super Bowl winner, they have had a player in the game, as Ninkovich and Matt Light played for New England in Super Bowl XLVI, Light was playing for New England in Super Bowl XLII (Meaning he could have been just the second player in NFL history with five Super Bowl rings), and Chike Okeafor just missed a ring with Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII.