The Pro Football Hall of Fame will welcome its Class of 2017 on Aug. 5. This week, Shutdown Corner is highlighting the greatest moment for each member of the seven-man class, leading up to Saturday’s induction ceremony.
Super Bowl XXXII is the reason Denver Broncos running back Terrell Davis made the Hall of Fame. Super Bowl XXXII should have been the reason Davis made the Hall of Fame a decade ago.
We’re in a weird place when it comes to watching and analyzing the NFL. To many, if you’re not a quarterback, you don’t matter. Blame the culture of “quarterback wins,” the single dumbest “stat” that still gets used. We’ve gone from giving the quarterback too much credit when his team succeeds and too much blame when it loses, to giving the quarterback all the credit or all the blame.
As such, we turn above-average quarterbacks who have never sniffed an All-Pro team or ever gotten a single league MVP vote into legends if their team wins a Super Bowl. Yet, Davis put together a nearly impeccable postseason résumé and had to wait 10 years to get inducted into the Hall of Fame. If Davis was a quarterback with a comparable playoff history, the voters might have waived the five-year waiting period to rush him into the Hall.
In eight playoff games, Davis rushed for 1,140 yards and 12 touchdowns on 204 carries, a ridiculous 5.6-yard average. If you quickly double that, it’s 2,280 yards and 24 touchdowns over a 16-game pace, and that’s obviously all against playoff competition. Davis rushed for 91 yards in his first playoff game, and Denver lost. Davis rushed for more than 100 yards in each of his last seven playoff games, and the Broncos went 7-0 with two Super Bowl titles. Among non-quarterbacks, you could argue only Jerry Rice has a better playoff résumé. Rice is considered by many the greatest player ever.
Even on Davis’ greatest day, at Super Bowl XXXII, he had to watch as Broncos owner Pat Bowlen grabbed the Lombardi Trophy and proclaimed, “This one’s for John!” Nobody was bothered, because John Elway was a legendary quarterback who had to wait a long time to win a Super Bowl. But he needed Davis to get him one. Elway completed just 12 passes for 123 yards in that Super Bowl win over the Green Bay Packers. Davis had 157 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
What has been somewhat forgotten, in the endless loops of Elway’s 8-yard “helicopter” run (Davis on that drive: eight carries, 31 yards and a touchdown), is that Davis practically played just three quarters of that game. Davis suffered from migraine headaches, but had medication to control them. He’d take the medication before pre-game warmups, and be fine to play.
Then, on Super Bowl Sunday of all days, he forgot to take his medicine. Early in the game he took a knee to the helmet and suddenly he was dealing with a migraine.
“I remember it was just like a blunt force like ‘bam!’ and it just kinda rocked my world,” Davis told Fox Sports.
Davis didn’t get a carry in the second quarter as he sat out with the migraine, though he did appear for one play as a decoy. In a clip immortalized by NFL Films, Davis told Broncos coach Mike Shanahan he couldn’t see. Shanahan told Davis he didn’t have to see on the goal-line play, he just had to carry out a fake while Elway ran a naked bootleg. It worked, and Elway scored. Still, there was concern at halftime Davis might not play at all in the second half.
Denver would not have won Super Bowl XXXII without Davis in the second half. The Broncos built their game plan around Davis. A major part of it was lining tight end Shannon Sharpe up on one side and having Davis run to the other, to minimize the impact from Packers star strong safety LeRoy Butler. Thankfully for the Broncos, Davis’ migraine cleared up at halftime and he controlled the second half. Because the Broncos were so good the following season, in 1998 – with Davis rushing for 2,008 yards, 21 touchdowns and winning NFL MVP – it might get lost a bit how big of an upset Super Bowl XXXII was. Few believed heading into the game that Denver could knock off Green Bay, which won the previous Super Bowl. In a game with future Hall of Famers like Reggie White, Brett Favre, Shannon Sharpe, Gary Zimmerman and Elway, Davis was clearly the best player on the field.
Super Bowl XXXII was Davis at his best: incredible vision, ruthless efficiency with a great combination of power and speed, and an underrated ability to carry the ball play after play without tiring. Davis rushed for 93 yards on 21 carries after halftime against the Packers. Davis touched the ball 22 times on Denver’s 35 second-half plays, not counting a kneel-down at the end. Maybe that win was for John, but Davis did almost all of the work. Davis’ final carry was the game-winning touchdown with 1:45 left. He was named Super Bowl MVP.
Davis was far from Timmy Smith, who exploded in a Super Bowl for the Washington Redskins but did little else. Davis was a three-time All-Pro and a league MVP, one of five non-quarterbacks to win the award over the last 20 years. Davis averaged 97.5 rushing yards per game in his career, more than Adrian Peterson, Walter Payton, O.J. Simpson, Earl Campbell or many other all-time greats. Through NFL history only Jim Brown and Barry Sanders averaged more rushing yards per game than Davis.
Davis didn’t have a long career and that’s a major reason he was kept out of the Hall of Fame for 10 years, though players with shorter careers have made it in. In 1999, Davis hurt his knee while trying to make a tackle after an interception, and he was never the same after that. He retired after 78 career games, and as he waited for the Hall of Fame to vote him in, he wondered if a lack of longevity would keep him out.
“I had a lot to lean back on and look back and say, ‘Hey, it was great even though it was short,’” Davis said. “But yeah, now that (being elected to the Hall of Fame) has happened, I don’t ever have to worry about that being an issue anymore.”
In the NFL, we celebrate being clutch. We usually only do that for quarterbacks anymore, but Davis is going to the Hall of Fame because in the biggest games, he was absolutely dominant. His greatest moment brought the Broncos their first championship.
Previous “Greatest Moments” from the 2017 Hall of Fame class:
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