One of the grittiest rivalries in the NFL has waned a bit since it hit it’s peak, when the NFC was run by the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks. Back when Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh’s disdain for each other was a headline, you couldn’t imagine the teams working out together at all, even in small groups. That clearly is not the case as several members of each team gathered together in Oahu at Hawaii Optimum Performance, or HOP, training facility of which Michael Bennett is a part owner.
It’s a different era where players exchange jerseys and pleasantries after a game. Social media has made the world smaller and since the CBA, players need to find their own way to stay in shape during the offseason, so they often do it together. Because players can’t rely on training camp to get into shape, four members of the 49ers defense, DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, Eli Harold and Ronald Blair joined Bennett, Earl Thomas and many other members of the Seahawk defense in a converted warehouse to sweat it out together. And sweat it out they did. The humidity was sweltering after a light rain, and the roll up doors remained closed as the group went through their three hour session of calesthenics, footwork, handwork, blocking and circuit training drills.
From my outsider’s perspective, if I didn’t know, I would have believed that all of the men training in Waipahu were all from the same organization. They encouraged each other on, seamlessly working together through the drills, calling each other by name. When I spoke to the players after the session was over they had a few interesting things to say about the dynamics of working with members of a rival team.
Off the field we all get along. Mike just wants to see young guys succeed. He’s got a championship, he’s been to multiple Pro Bowls, he just wants to see young guys succeed in the league and help out as much as he can. I think it’s pretty cool that a veteran like him would reach out to guys like me, Arik, Eli and Ron and try to get us better.
It’s pretty normal. Outside looking in, fans and other people might think there’s big vendettas off the field or something like that but not when you play the same side of the ball or position. It would probably be weird working with Seahawks offensive linemen, but us as pass rushers and defensive linemen, we all support each other and want each other to succeed. It’s a good dynamic.
It’s amazing. They’ve had one of the best front sevens in the NFL for the past eight years. Working with a guy like Mike, who was undrafted and has climbed his way to the top, to become one of the best in the game...it’s cool being on rival teams and guys coming together to work together.
I’m very thankful for the experience. It feels like best friend teams, it doesn’t feel like a rival at all. Honestly, Mike is a really good guy. He gives us good knowledge and information that will help propel ourselves, move forward and get better in our careers. I’m thankful that he’s that type of stand up guy who is willing to do it. Even though we’re rivals, he’s willing to spit out the information because not everyone gives what he gives.