Posted: Wednesday March 8, 2006 7:16PM; Updated: Friday March 10, 2006 2:21PM
No one ever confused Davis with having a stellar pro career. Rather than play for the Jets, who picked him in the second round of the 1975 draft, Davis signed a $2.5 million contract to play for the WFL in SoCal. The league folded after his rookie year. The next year he signed with the CFL's Toronto Argonauts for $1 million over five years, a move Davis laments as the worst of his life.
"A lot of people said I probably should've come back and played professional baseball," says Davis, who was drafted in the fourth round by the Twins in 1975. "But in those times, economics was the key, and you took the money. I just couldn't turn it down. Plus my family needed help."
Davis was never the same after playing in Canada. In the four years that followed he seemingly racked up more injuries per carry than yards. After cracking three bones in his back with the Argos in '76, he suffered repeated injuries to his left leg and shoulder with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with whom he signed as a free agent in 1977. A pair of broken ribs while with the Los Angeles Rams in '79 doomed him to early retirement at 29.
At first, Davis didn't seem to have much trouble adjusting to life after football. He took up acting -- sharing TV credits with the likes of Angie Dickinson (Police Woman, 1977) and Martin Sheen (In the Custody of Strangers, 1982) -- and dabbled in real estate development. But life soon handed him new adversities -- specifically, a divorce in 1990, and the challenge of raising his only daughter, Voz, with just his mother's help. With those new worries came added weight. "I was very aware of the stereotypes of certain black men having three or four kids, maybe from different women, and not being responsible," says Davis, whose daughter is 19 and in college. "I didn't want to be that stat."
The weight gain was slow in the beginning. Davis admits to never being much of an eater, but the litany of injuries -- especially the one to his back -- had doused much of his enthusiasm for working out.
He managed to stay within 30 pounds of his playing weight his first few years in retirement, then slowly tacked on more before maxing out at three bills in 2003. That was the year Davis was diagnosed with sleep apnea, a disorder characterized by brief interruptions of breathing during sleep. (People who are overweight are believed to be at a greater risk of developing the disorder.)
Davis eventually adjusted to the nightly tossing and turning, even keeping a small respiratory device -- called a CPAP machine -- on his nightstand to help his breathing while asleep. The "ah-ha" moment didn't hit him until January '05, when he read how sleep apnea might have played a part in White's death, at 43. "That was a serious wake-up call for me," says Davis, 53, who also claims the extra weight bedevils his senses of smell and taste. "Sometimes I don't taste my food at all," he says.
Davis hopes his experience will not only focus attention on morbid obesity among black men, but also among retired football players. "Most guys in the game today, they're blowing up!" says Davis of the premium that football teams put on extra poundage. "Their natural weight might be 275-280, but they blow up to 325 just to compete."
After the surgery (which is done without liposuction) Davis should be roughly 15-20 pounds lighter in the first couple of weeks. He figures it'll take him another two years to reach his target weight of 185 pounds. The bad news is that his Hall of Fame induction is in August. The good news? He'll be slipping into a much smaller navy blue blazer at the podium. "I'll be wearing a 44," says Davis excitedly. "I'm a 54 now."