By Lisa Zimmerman, Player Engagement Insider
Terrell Davis’ road to the NFL was paved with far more uncertainty than certainty. College injuries placed a question mark in everyone’s head – including his own. In 1993, his junior year at the University of Georgia, he became the Bulldog’s leading running back rushing for 824 yards on 167 carries. However, in his senior season, a hamstring injury sidelined him for three games, and although he accumulated a total of 445 yards on 67 carries, his NFL Draft stock had plummeted.
“I didn’t think I was going to be playing professional football,” he said.
The 2017 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee’s outlook changed in 1995 when the Denver Broncos selected Davis with their sixth-round pick in the NFL Draft. The team had a new head coach in Mike Shanahan, known for his heavy running offenses. It didn’t take long for Davis to impress the Broncos’ coaching staff and become the team’s starting running back in his rookie season.
Over the next five seasons Davis set several records and helped led the team to consecutive wins in Super Bowls XXXII (1997) and XXXIII (1998). He was named MVP of Super Bowl XXXII, was named NFL Most Valuable Player in 1998, NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 1996 and 1998, and was AFC Player of the Year in 1996. Along the way he earned three Pro Bowl selections. In 2007, he was inducted into the Broncos’ Ring of Fame.
But, as in college, injuries cropped up again and Davis was forced to retire prior to the start of the 2002 regular season. In spite of his outstanding production during his early years, questions lingered as to what his legacy would be. Even Davis, was uncertain if his career had been long enough. Having now been selected to the Hall of Fame, he hopes other players with similar bodies of work will receive consideration as well.
“That’s the one thing that shouldn’t really be evaluated when you talk about players making it to the hall of fame is the length of their career,” he said. “I was pleased to see (Seattle Seahawks safety) Kenny (Easley) going in and myself going in. Our careers weren’t as long as some of the other guys we’re going to be standing next to. Evaluate somebody for the work they’ve done. I think seven, eight years is long enough to play in the NFL. I think things are changing and the attitude toward longevity is starting to shift a bit.”
Davis fell in love with football at an early age. He recalled the early years and how he ended up playing running back. “I played Pop Warner at the age of seven. I have five older brothers and they all played football. I just gravitated toward it. My dad loved the physicality of playing football. When I first started playing, I was playing on the offensive line and I was messing with the coaches and told them I wanted to be a running back. Then I realized I was actually pretty good at it.”
Although he had hoped for a longer NFL career, he has no regrets.
“People would say, ‘I’m sorry man, your career ended short.’ I try not to have that attitude about what-ifs and lean on what happened, the championships, the relationships. I had a lot to kind of lean back on and say it was great. It was short but it was a blessed career. But now that [the Hall of Fame] has happened I never have to worry about that being an issue anymore. It was in the back of my mind that maybe I didn’t play long enough and the voters would hold it against me.”
As it turned out, they didn’t.
Lisa Zimmerman is a long-time NFL writer and reporter. She was the Jets correspondent for CBSSports.com, SportsNet New York’s TheJetsBlog.com and Sirius NFL Radio. She has also written for NFL.com.