One of the top running back
s in the NFL
) in the late 1990s
for the Denver Broncos
, who had his career
cut short by a degenerative
condition in his left knee
Davis (DOB: October 28, 1972, San Diego, California) initially went to college at lightly-regarded Long Beach State. However Long Beach dropped their football program, so Davis transferred to the University of Georgia in 1992. That season, he backed up another future NFL running back, Garrison Hearst.
Davis led the Bulldogs in rushing in both 1993 and 1994, but injuries hampered him, and his numbers weren't spectacular (rushing for 824 and 445 yards in his those two seasons). The Denver Broncos risked little when they selected Davis in the 6th round of the 1995 draft (196th overall).
The Broncos were a team that had John Elway in the midst of a future Hall of Fame career, but had not has a 1000-yard rusher since 1991 (Gaston Green), and had also not won a playoff game since that same year.
Davis surprisingly won the starting job as a rookie, rushing for a team high 1117 yards, good for 9th in the whole NFL. He also showed he was a solid receiver, catching 49 passes. The Broncos ended up 8-8, missing the playoffs, but it was clear that Davis's running was a good match with Elway's passing.
1996 proved that TD (his initials, and his nickname which is also an abbreviation for touchdown) wasn't a fluke. His 1538 yards were 2nd in the NFL (Barry Sanders had 1553), while his 13 touchdown rushes was 3rd in the league. The Broncos flourished, finishing the regular season 13-3, and earning a bye into the 2nd round of the playoffs. However, they were shocked at home by the Jacksonville Jaguars 30-27.
The Broncos and Davis came back strong the next season. Davis rushed for 1750 yards (again, finishing 2nd to Sanders and his 2053). TD showed his ability to dominate a game, rushing for more than 200 yards twice that season, including a career high 215 against the Cincinnati Bengals in week 4. He lived up to his nickname too, rushing for 15 scores, tied for the best in the NFL. After each score, he'd stand at attention and salute the fans, something which came to be known as the Mile High Salute which became known as his trademark. The Broncs finished the 1997 season 12-4, while scoring a league-high 472 points.
The 1997 postseason would be different, as Denver avenged their loss to the Jaguars, winning 42-17 in the wild card round. They followed that up with road wins at Kansas City (14-10) and at Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship Game (24-21). Davis was instrumental in all 3 wins, rushing for over 100 yards each time.
Super Bowl XXXII was played in TD's hometown of San Diego, and he didn't disappoint. Davis won the Pete Rozelle Award as MVP of the Super Bowl. He rushed for 157 yards and 3 touchdowns in the Broncos 31-24 upset of the Green Bay Packers.
1998 was more of the same, with Davis putting together one of the best rushing seasons in NFL history. TD amassed 2008 yards, becoming just the 4th back EVER to rush for at least 2000 yards (O.J. Simpson, Eric Dickerson, and Barry Sanders being the other three). He also scored a league-high 21 rushing touchdowns and won the league's MVP award. The Broncos were 14-2, and rolled through the playoffs, culminating with a 34-19 win over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII. Davis picked up 102 yards in the game. He had now rushed for over 100 yards in seven straight postseason games (an NFL record), highlighting his ability to star in big games.
He was at the top of the football world, and became known nationally for his appearances in Chunky Soup commercials, among other product pitching.
And then it all came crashing down. TD tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in 1999, and was injured the rest of the season.
Various injuries to both knees allowed TD to play only 4 games in 1999, 5 in 2000, and 8 in 2001 (all out of a 16 game schedule.
In the preseason of 2002, Davis was still troubled by his left knee. Doctors believed that the problem was degenerative, and would not improve. This forced Davis to retire from the NFL, at just 29 years old. On August 19, 2002, Davis appeared in uniform a final time, on the sidelines during the Broncos' preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers. This let the home Denver fans applaud their star back one final time and give the crowd one last Mile High Salute. The Broncos will place TD on injured reserve August 20, 2002, ending his season, and likely his career.
Davis ended up rushing for 7607 yards in his short career (7 seasons total, only 4 of which were full) with 60 touchdowns. He was a league MVP, a Super Bowl MVP, won two Super Bowls, and his four seasons from 1995-1998 are among the greatest four-year spans in league history. Still, his career was short and there's much debate about whether he belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Favorable comparisons are made between TD and Hall of Famer Gale Sayers.
Regardless of whether he makes the Hall of Fame or not (I think he will, and deserves to), Davis was the dominant NFL back for several years, and one of the top clutch postseasons running backs in history. He also carried himself with class, and will be missed by not just the Denver Broncos, but the NFL and football fans at large.
www.td30.com (Davis's official site)
www.football-reference.com (for player and team stats)
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