Star Bron­cos back awaits cross­ing ul­ti­mate goal line

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Nicki Jhab­vala

Ter­rell Davis will never for­get the mo­ment his sta­tus as a Pro Foot­ball Hall of Famer be­came real — at a UPS store.

A pack­age ar­rived in his name, and in­side was a black bag with a fa­mil­iar logo, so Davis quickly pulled out his phone and turned to the store worker.

“Dude, you gotta record this,” Davis told him.

Then Davis tore through the flat ship­ping box, pulled out the bag and pointed to the Hag­gar Cloth­ing logo, so Mr. UPS Man could get a close-up with the carousel of greet­ing cards and ship­ping sup­plies in the back­ground. A few fren­zied zips later, Davis re­vealed the The Gold Jacket, still wrapped in plas­tic and await­ing its first fit­ting.

“I was like, ‘Man, this is spe­cial,’ ” Davis re­called. “That was a good mo­ment.”

That mo­ment was one of many great ones Davis has lived over the past six months, and the past 22 years since he be­came a Bronco. But it will prob­a­bly pale in com­par­i­son to the one he’ll ex­pe­ri­ence Satur­day evening in Can­ton, Ohio.

Fif­teen years af­ter re­tir­ing as a

two-time Su­per Bowl cham­pion and MVP, an NFL MVP, a mem­ber of the 2,000-yard club, and Den­ver’s all-time lead­ing rusher, Davis will take his place among foot­ball’s great­est of greats and be en­shrined into the Pro Foot­ball Hall of Fame.

“I think what’s great about it is the story be­hind it,” Davis said. “It’s not a typ­i­cal first-round se­lec­tion from a big school that’s the all-time lead­ing rusher. I was to­tally sort of op­po­site of all those things.”

“I’m glad he never took Ja­pa­nese”

Davis’ Hall of Fame ca­reer be­gan in Cal­i­for­nia, moved on to Ge­or­gia, launched in Ja­pan and was head­quar­tered in Colorado. But re­ally, the vi­sion was born at a small diner in Fort Lee, N.J., just over the Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Bridge.

It was 1994 and Neil Schwartz had lured Davis to New York hop­ing a city tour would help per­suade the Ge­or­gia tail­back, whom the Bron­cos had drafted in the sixth round, to sign him as his agent. The trip was capped at the Plaza Diner, where the two chat­ted from about 10 p.m. to 5 the next morn­ing about life, foot­ball, Davis’ try­ing se­nior sea­son and the fu­ture.

“Right be­fore we left, I told him, ‘You’re go­ing to make it to the Hall of Fame one day, and I would love to present you,’” Schwartz said. “He looked at me like I was crazy.

“For what it’s worth, he didn’t sign with me.”

But Davis even­tu­ally would — and for 23 years he’d re­mem­ber Schwartz’s words.

On Satur­day evening, Schwartz will present Davis to a crowd that will in­clude, among oth­ers, his for­mer quar­ter­back John El­way, his for­mer coach Mike Shana­han and his best friend, for­mer Bron­cos tight end By­ron Cham­ber­lain.

Cham­ber­lain, a sev­en­thround pick in 1995, re­mem­bers when the two just hoped to make the prac­tice squad. Davis screwed that up in Tokyo, where the Bron­cos faced the 49ers in the Amer­i­can Bowl. Davis wanted to quit the team that morn­ing, be­liev­ing he was wast­ing his time as train­ing camp meat. But he couldn’t ar­range an ear­lier flight, so he stuck it out.

“I’m glad he never took Ja­pa­nese in col­lege,” Cham­ber­lain joked.

In the third quar­ter, with a stom­ach full of hot dogs, Davis made it clear he was never leav­ing. Tossed in on kick­off cov­er­age, Davis pum­meled 49ers kick re­turner Ty­ronne Drake­ford so hard Drake­ford flew back nearly three yards.

“When he stood out as much as he did in that game,” Shana­han said, “it didn’t take a ge­nius to fig­ure out he had just made our foot­ball team.”

But the mo­ments that made Davis a Hall of Famer started in 1998 and car­ried on to ’99, as the Bron­cos won two Su­per Bowls in large mea­sure be­cause of his feet.

“Back in those years, when they’re win­ning those Su­per Bowls and had those great foot­ball teams, he was the main rea­son why,” El­way said. “I’m thrilled that (the Hall) over­came the one thing that was keep­ing him out, and that was the length of ca­reer. Be­cause while he was play­ing, there was no­body bet­ter.”

Cer­tainly no­body was bet­ter in Su­per Bowl XXXII, a mem­ory that will stick with Bron­cos fans and es­pe­cially Shana­han. In the mid­dle of the game, Davis ran to the side­lines and told his coach he couldn’t see. A mi­graine had set in and sapped his vi­sion. So he trot­ted back on the field, blind as a bat, to stand be­hind the line of scrim­mage and act as a de­coy for a Green Bay Pack­ers de­fense fully ex­pect­ing Davis to run. We know how that ended: 157 rush­ing yards, a record three rush­ing touch­downs and a Su­per Bowl MVP award for Davis to go with the Bron­cos’ first world cham­pi­onship.

“It just showed you what type of guy he was at that time,” Shana­han said. “He couldn’t even see and he was go­ing to go in the game any­how to help his team win, es­pe­cially in a big game like that. Those types of sto­ries are pretty con­sis­tent with Ter­rell.”

“I’m go­ing to wear it ev­ery day”

“Let me tell you about that day,” Cham­ber­lain says. “Let me tell you about that fi­nal cut day.”

It was the sum­mer of ‘95, and Cham­ber­lain and Davis sat in a ho­tel room wait­ing to learn their NFL fate. Months ear­lier the two met for the first time at Den­ver In­ter­na­tional Air­port. Weeks af­ter, they be­came train­ing camp room­mates in Gree­ley. But in­stantly they be­came the best of friends. The two had grown up blocks apart in south­east San Diego, shared many mu­tual friends but never crossed paths.

But on cut day, the two rook­ies sep­a­rated and teth­ered to their phones, both await­ing the dreaded call to pack up their be­long­ings, turn in their play­book and meet Shana­han for the for­mal farewell.

“So the en­tire day we’re call­ing each other’s rooms, ev­ery 45 min­utes to an hour, to see if he’s still around or if I’m still around,” Cham­ber­lain said. “He’s call­ing me, I’m call­ing him. Fi­nally it got so nervewrack­ing I called him and he’s like, ‘Man, you’re scar­ing the heck out of me. We gotta quit call­ing each other.’”

In hind­sight, per­haps that day was just prepa­ra­tion for a decade in the fu­ture.

In 2015, Cham­ber­lain sat with Davis in an Ari­zona ho­tel room as they waited for a call or a knock. Davis got a call, as one of the first cuts in the group of 15 Hall of Fame fi­nal­ists.

In 2016, in San Fran­cisco. Davis got an­other call af­ter mak­ing it to the fi­nal 10.

In 2017, they did it once more in Hous­ton.

“I had pre­pared my­self sort of both ways,” Davis said. “But more so that it wouldn’t hap­pen.”

For about than two hours, Cham­ber­lain, Davis and the lat­ter’s fam­ily and friends stayed cooped up in a ho­tel room snap­ping self­ies, watch­ing Davis’ two young chil­dren turn the bed into a tram­po­line and re­flect­ing on their long jour­ney.

“And we get the knock on the door, and I said, ‘You fi­nally made it,’” Schwartz said. “He looked at me and said, ‘No, Neil. We made it.’”

Davis opened the door to see the 6-foot-9, 400-pound pres­i­dent of the Hall of Fame, David Baker, stand­ing on the other side with a cam­era­man. Davis dropped his head in tears. Schwartz threw his hands up in ela­tion. Davis’ wife and chil­dren shouted in cel­e­bra­tion.

For years, Davis said he didn’t need this mo­ment to val­i­date his ca­reer, and per­haps that’s true.

But he wanted it. He re­ally wanted it.

On Satur­day, it will be his as he stands on stage in that jacket from UPS to un­veil the bronze bust that will stay in Can­ton. It’s the last stop on Davis’ ca­reer. The last chap­ter.

Davis’ story got its happy end­ing.

“I’m go­ing to wear it ev­ery day,” Davis said. “I’m go­ing to keep it on — that nice mus­tard-gold color. I’m go­ing to do like they do with the Masters. They don’t take it off, so that’s what you’ll see. I’m go­ing to have it on.”

Den­ver Post file

Bron­cos run­ning back Ter­rell Davis re­tired as a two-time Su­per Bowl cham­pion and MVP, an NFL MVP, a mem­ber of the 2,000-yard club, and Den­ver’s all-time lead­ing rusher.

As­so­ci­ated Press file

Davis car­ries the Lom­bardi Tro­phy onto the field be­fore the Bron­cos played the Pan­thers in Den­ver in 2016.

John Leyba, Den­ver Post file

Team­mates mob Ter­rell Davis on the field in Den­ver in 2002 af­ter he an­nounced his re­tire­ment from foot­ball.

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