By Arnie Stapleton, AP pro football writer
In between the magnificence and the migraines, Terrell Davis’ NFL voyage was bookended by two bone-crushing hits that came to define a career remembered as much for its brevity as its brilliance.
The first hit harkened his arrival, the second one his departure.
Davis was just another lost-in-the-shuffle rookie back in 1995, filled with doubts when the Denver Broncos traveled to Tokyo for an exhibition game against the San Francisco 49ers.
“Let’s just say if I spoke better Japanese I wouldn’t be here,” said Davis, who contemplated quitting football right then and there. “I’m telling you, I was this close to walking out of there because I looked at everything around me and I just had no shot of making the team. I was a sixth-round draft pick, I was seventh on the depth chart, I wasn’t getting any reps in practice, I had my coach constantly on me. And it just didn’t feel like there was any way of me making the team.”
He told himself he could put his degree in consumer economics from the University of Georgia to use instead as he pondered hailing a cab and catching his own flight home.
“Thank God I didn’t,” Davis said. “And then I made the big hit.”
Summoned to cover a kickoff the next night, the rookie on nobody’s radar burst downfield and delivered a savage hit on returner Tyrone Drakeford that left fellow Hall-of-Famer-to-be Shannon Sharpe marveling, “Who was that?!”
That was the savior who would end the frustrations of a long-suffering franchise, city and larger-than-life quarterback who could never win the big game before Davis came along.
Davis is the only running back with back-to-back Super Bowl titles, an MVP trophy, a Super Bowl MVP honor, a 2,000-yard season and seven consecutive playoff wins in which he topped 100 yards rushing.
He accomplished all this despite playing just four full seasons and enduring migraine headaches like the one he suffered against Green Bay in Super Bowl 32 , when he scored three touchdowns after regaining his vision at halftime.
Davis shudders to think how close he came to frittering it all away.
“For anybody out there struggling, I try to tell them even if your situation seems dire, don’t give up,” said Davis. “Just keep fighting, keep fighting, keep fighting. You never know.”
Sticking it out gave Davis football immortality. He’ll be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame next week.
“I’m thrilled for him,” said John Elway, who called Davis “the main reason why” the Broncos won consecutive titles in the late 1990s that ended Denver’s string of Super Bowl embarrassments.
Yet, Davis, the only running back other than Jim Brown to average more than 100 yards a game over his career, was long considered too much of a short-timer to be enshrined in Canton. He played only seven seasons and was never the same after blowing out his right knee on Oct. 3, 1999.
Davis was chasing down Jets safety Victor Green after an interception when teammate Matt Lepsis made a lunging tackle that also wiped out a trailing Davis.
“It was a wild play,” Davis said. “Wrong place, wrong time.”
Davis, who had averaged an astonishing 1,603 yards and 14 touchdowns over his first four years, missed the rest of that season and would play in just 13 more games and score two touchdowns over the final two years of his career.
Consider this, however, about the play that essentially ended his career: He easily could have saved his health and his chances of putting up more big seasons by pulling up and not chasing down Green.
But is that the hallmark of a Hall of Famer?
His career wasn’t long, but as Elway said, “other than the years he was hurt, he was great.”
Picking up first downs and safety blitzes. Taking pressure off the passer.
And yes, chasing down defenders after an interception.
The Hall of Fame selection committee recognized those traits and rewarded him in spite of his truncated time in the league.
“I’m thrilled that they overcame the one thing that was keeping him out, and that was the length of his career,” Elway said. “Because, while he was playing, there was nobody better.”
Still, Davis thought his wait would last a little longer because LaDainian Tomlinson was up for election for the first time this year.
“And I said, ‘T.D., don’t say that, because you deserve it,” recounted Tomlinson, who shared “the biggest hug” with Davis after both were elected.
“It was good to see him get in because if he had played just two or three more years, he was a first-ballot Hall of Famer,” Tomlinson said.
“Because he got hurt, he had to wait a little bit. But all of us players knew he was going to eventually get in. How dominant he was when he played the game, he just couldn’t be denied.”