ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — It wasn't for the love of the game, the seemingly endless wealth or the eternal fame that drove one of the best running backs to the Hall of Fame, it was the determination to never quit on himself.
The road to the greatest destination in all of football was not a straightforward or easy process for Terrell Davis. Before a quick rise to fame during his rookie season in 1995, the man known in Broncos Country as “T.D.” almost never made it to a professional roster.
There were numerous times where it would have not only been easy, but also practical, for Davis to walk away from the game in his late teens and early twenties. From his original college, Long Beach State, shutting down its football program a year after Davis enrolled to being seventh on the depth chart his rookie season in the NFL.
Thanks to a refusal to give up, Davis now calls himself a Hall of Fame member.
Davis’s career with the Broncos most notably took off after he had one of the most, if not the most, impactful preseason special teams tackles while playing the San Francisco 49ers in Tokyo, Japan. If it wasn’t for that tackle — which sent Tyronne Drakeford off his feet three yards back — the legend of the greatest running back in Broncos’ history may not exist.
Just days before that game in Tokyo, though, Davis “almost” packed his bags and called it a football career.
“Let’s just say that if I spoke better Japanese I wouldn’t be here,” Davis said with a laugh. “I was this close to waking out of there. I looked at everything around me, and I had no shot of making the team. I was a sixth-round draft pick, and I was seventh on the depth chart. I wasn’t getting any reps in practice, and I had my coach constantly on me. It didn’t feel like there was any way for me to make the team. I had a weak moment where I thought that 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 walk out of here. Thank God I didn’t.”
Thankfully for the Broncos, and Davis, he stuck with it. In a matter of weeks, Davis quickly rose from the seventh running back on the depth chart at the start of preseason to the starter by the first regular season game — an incredible climb for any player in just over a month, but even more so for a rookie. However, this wasn’t the only time that Davis persevered throughout his career.
After Long Beach State shutdown its football program, Davis transferred to Georgia where he would eventually become a two-year starter. However, injury concerns made NFL teams weary of his ability to stay healthy at the next level, eventually dropping him to the sixth-round of the draft. Then, at the end of his career, Davis battled through five leg injuries, including an ACL and MCL tear in 1999, through a three-year period before finally hanging up the cleats.
“My thing is that if you quit, the result is always failure. If you don’t quit, you never know what the outcome can be,” he said. “Quitting on yourself should never be an option, and I almost did. Thank God that I didn’t. For anybody that’s out there struggling, I try to tell them that even if your situation seems dire, don’t give up. Just keep fighting and fighting. You never know. The only thing that you can control is the effort. You can’t control the outcome or the results, but just keep going at it. You never know how that plays out.”
Davis’s inspiration is relevant for football players at all points in their career as well as non-athletes. By understanding the journey Davis took, others can draw motivation in their own personal situations.
“I think what’s great about it is the story behind it. It’s not a typical first-round selection from a big school that’s the all-time leading rusher. I was totally sort of the opposite of all those things, and I was still able to make it to the Hall of Fame,” he said. “What does that tell a kid right now that is struggling with not being first team or is not at the school that he wants to be at? I find it as an inspirational story for other people, just like the [2017 Pro Football HOF QB] Kurt Warner story. It’s unique, and I’m proud of that story being unique. It’s not like anybody else’s.”
Even though the journey wasn’t easy, Davis wouldn’t change the path he took.
“When I think back to when I first got here and [running backs coach] Bobby Turner was on me every day, I didn’t think I was going to be in training camp much longer,” Davis recalled. “I think back to that day, and this is just a whole 360 from that time. It’s totally different, but I cherish that journey. I love what happened because it made me a better person and a better player. I wouldn’t change that for anything.”
Much like Davis never quit on his dream to play football, the Hall of Fame never quit pushing for his entrance. Sixteen years after hanging up his cleats for the last time, the Hall called.
“I remember the day vividly,” Davis recalled. “I was driving down the road with my wife, and I got a text that said I’d made it as a finalist for the Hall of Fame and I almost crashed the truck. I saw the text come through and we pulled over. My wife and I were just super excited about it. That was progress. We were now getting to a point that we were in that room. Then I became kind of rejuvenated about it. I thought maybe it was going to happen. I’m not sure when, but I think it’s going to happen. I was confident that it would happen before I was old, and it did. I was happy about that.”
On February 4, 2017, Davis’s last fight in the NFL ended with an induction into the Hall of Fame. His accolades and accomplishments seem never ending, but it was his never-ending refusal to quit that truly drove another Bronco into the Hall of Fame.