Star Broncos back awaits crossing ultimate goal line
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.”
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.
Davis carries the Lombardi Trophy onto the field before the Broncos played the Panthers in Denver in 2016.
Teammates mob Terrell Davis on the field in Denver in 2002 after he announced his retirement from football.