The smile was evidence of a hope fulfilled. Terrell Davis, the Broncos’ all-time leading rusher and newly elected Pro Football Hall of Famer, waltzed onto the team’s practice field Wednesday afternoon with a camera crew in tow and an unmistakable joviality.
“Just give me the first 15 plays,” he told head coach Vance Joseph. “At least 15.”
“Let him have ‘em!” running back C.J. Anderson added as Davis got in his stance and mocked a handoff. “Hey, 15 plays? That’s first 15. I’ll come in second quarter. We’ll be good.”
“Gimme 18 or 19,” Davis responded with a chuckle.
As Anderson and fellow Broncos backs Devontae Booker and Jamaal Charles crowded around, Davis reflected on his own training camp memories of some of his locker room superstitions, his touchdown celebrations (the No Limit Soldier chant and, of course, the Mile High Salute), of the memorable high points in his short but unmatched career as the Broncos’ star back.
He reflected on all the good because he finally could.
See, last time Davis was here, the memories were clouded by the uncertainty that had trailed him for more than a decade.
Last time he was here, he was a Hall of Fame reject, snubbed for the 10th time by the selection committee.
Last time he was here, Davis played the game for the cameras and said repeatedly that, sure, he’d be fine with “whatever happens” and that, sure, he’d be content if he never made it into the Hall.
“I meant some of that,” he said with a laugh Wednesday. “I didn’t mean all of that. I think when it happened and the relief that I felt, I realized how much I wanted it.”
Eleven years of waiting culminated with a knock on the hotel door by David Baker, executive director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, on the eve of Super Bowl LI in Houston. Immediately, Davis erupted into tears, hugging Baker and then his family that had been at his side awaiting good news.
The moment you realize you’re a Hall of Famer … pic.twitter.com/d3zBdzMUJt
— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) February 7, 2017
Since 2007, when Davis first became eligible for the Hall, he made it to the semifinal round eight years, with the latter ones ending with the same feeling: Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be, he told himself.
But 2014 changed his tune.
John Leyba, The Denver Post
From left, Broncos running backs Jamaal Charles, Devontae Booker and C.J. Anderson do the Mile High Salute with Hall of Famer Terrell Davis after minicamp practice on June 14, 2017.
“I remember the day vividly. I was driving down the road with my wife and we get a text that said, ‘You’re a finalist for the Hall of Fame,’ and I almost crashed the truck,” he recalled. “I saw the text come through and we pulled over because I was just super excited about it.”
Hope was restored when Davis cracked the final round. But he sat there for two years, each one teasing and testing him more than the last, before he got the honorary knock after Year 3.
Wild to think none of it would have happened had he actually stepped on that flight out of Tokyo in 1995.
A sixth-round pick out of Georgia, the then-rookie was convinced he wasn’t noticed, he wasn’t wanted, he wouldn’t make the final roster cut. So he almost quit before the team’s second preseason game against the 49ers in the American Bowl in Tokyo.
“Let’s just say if I spoke better Japanese I wouldn’t be here,” he said. “I’m telling you, I was this close to walking out of there because I looked at everything around me and thought I had no shot of making the team. I was a sixth-round draft pick, I was seventh on the depth charts, I wasn’t getting any reps in practice, I had my coach constantly on me. It just didn’t feel like there was any way for me to make the team. Yeah, I had a weak moment where I thought after practice, ‘I’m out of here. I’m not going to wait to get back to Denver to get cut. I’m going to get out of here.’
“Thank God I didn’t.”
Davis stayed. He stayed and he played and he turned in a memorable crushing tackle on the 49ers’ Tyronne Drakeford during a Broncos kickoff in the second half that is still shown to rookies during training camp now. It’s the Broncos’ annual and legendary reminder of the no-name in camp who kept fighting — all the way to the Hall of Fame.
It’s now Davis’ message to others, too.
“All the time,” he said. “It goes to show you that if you quit, the result is always failure. But if you don’t quit, you never know what the outcome will be. … The only thing you can control is the effort. You can’t control the outcome or results, but keep going at it and you never know how that plays out.”
Davis tried to heed his own message for the last 11 years. But the lesson became really real in February and then again last month, when he sat to have his bust sculpted for the Hall.
— Pro Football HOF (@ProFootballHOF) May 18, 2017
“I got emotional watching this guy,” he recalled. “He’s standing and I’m sitting and I’m just watching television and I’ll glance over at him every once and awhile and he’s (squinting at the bust) and I’ve never had anybody stare at me that much and that closely. It’s kind of eerie and spooky.
“But you just look at it and think about where it’s going and how many years it’s going to be there, and that it’s not going anywhere, and that no matter what happens, no one can take that from you, and the people it’s associated with, the legends and the history. That moment, it makes it more real.”