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Gone too soon

Broncos' Davis latest to run into career-ending injury

Posted: Sunday August 18, 2002 12:02 PM
  errell Davis #30 of the Denver Broncos In three injury-plagued seasons after his 2,008-yard effort, Terrell Davis totaled 1,194 yards. Tom Hauck/Allsport

ATLANTA ( -- Denver Broncos running back Terrell Davis has decided to retire after seven seasons.

Agent Neil Schwartz said doctors told Davis, 29, they could not guarantee that his latest ailment -- a degenerative condition in his left knee -- would get better. Schwartz also said Davis wanted to be able to end his career in Denver on his own terms.

Davis will be placed on injured reserve Tuesday, allowing fans to see him in uniform one last time Monday night, when the Broncos face the San Francisco 49ers.

"It's the hardest decision I had to make, but obviously the decision was made for me. My body made it," he told the Rocky Mountain News. (Full story.)

Here are three running backs whose career was cut short because of injuries:

Terrell Davis
Denver Broncos (1995-2001)
Year  Team  Rush  Yards  Avg.  TDs 
1995  Den.  14  237  1,117  4.7 
1996  Den.  16  345  1,538  4.5  13 
1997  Den.  15  369  1,750  4.7  15 
1998  Den.  16  392  2,008  5.1  21 
1999  Den.  67  211  3.1 
2000  Den.  78  282  3.6 
2001  Den.  167  701  4.2 
Totals      78   1,655   7,607   4.6   60  
After the glory ...
That was then: July 25, 1999 -- The Denver Post

Two-thousand in the season that ends in 2000.

It's got a nice ring to it. But Terrell Davis won't allow himself to think about it. Not yet.

"Right now, 2,000 yards is light years away," he said as Denver Broncos opened training camp. "I can't even see 2,000 right now until we start playing. Then if it's Week 16 or 17 and I have 1,800 yards, then maybe I'd think of it." What a concept. No player has ever rushed for 2,000 yards in consecutive NFL seasons. But Davis, at age 26 and in the prime of his career, could make a run at it this season.

Prophecy Fulfilled?
Sports Illustrated's Dr. Z ranked the NFL's top 40 running backs for the 2001 preview issue (Sept. 3). Here is what he had to say about Terrell Davis (with his overall rank among RBs and 2000 statistics):

24. Terrell Davis, Broncos -- Age: 28; Att.: 78; Yds.: 282; Rec.: 2; Yds.: 4; TDs: 2; This ranking hurts. I'm saying, in effect, that he won't regain premier status. His legs have taken a beating. When he played last year, he was far from effective. 

Last season, he ran for 2,008 yards on his way to being voted MVP. He became only the fourth man in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season. No one has ever rushed for 2,000 yards twice in his career, let alone in back-to-back seasons.

Should Davis accomplish this historic feat, he would likely pass 2,000 in the final game of the regular season. That would be on Jan. 2, in the year 2000, at Mile High Stadium against San Diego.

Davis says he's in the best shape of his life. He claims that carrying the ball an AFC-record 392 times last season did not wear him down. He believes his offensive line is the best in the business and would move a mountain for him if it meant winning a game.

But 2,000 yards times two? That's just gravy for a member of the two-time-defending Super Bowl champs.

"I don't measure myself in terms of numbers," he said. "I never have. Numbers don't dictate to me whether I've had a good season or not."

The truth of the matter is that Davis' chances for another 2,000 are not very good. Who says so? History.

None of the three previous men who gained 2,000 yards came close to repeating the feat. In fact, all three fell off considerably the following season.

Fact of the matter: In three injury-plagued seasons after his 2,008-yard effort, Davis totaled 1,194 yards. 

Bo Jackson
Los Angeles Raiders (1987-1990)
Year  Team  Rush  Yards  Avg.  TDs 
1987  L.A.  81  554  6.8 
1988  L.A.  10  136  580  4.3 
1989  L.A.  11  173  950  5.5 
1990  L.A.  10  125  698  5.6 
Totals      38   515   2,782   5.4   16  
After the glory ...
That was then: April 5, 1995, Chicago Tribune

The tendency is to wonder what might have been instead of merely marveling at the wonder. What if he hadn't suffered the freak hip injury on a routine tackle in the L.A. Coliseum Jan. 13, 1991? What if he had concentrated on only one sport?

Art Shell used to wonder as offensive line coach of the Los Angeles Raiders during Jackson's first two years (1987-88), then head coach his last two.

SI's Richard Hoffer
How many of athletes are there whose peculiar and largely irrelevant talents stir a society, whose otherwise pointless play looms heroic, whose brief careers become reference points not just for their sport but for us, whose brave little performances help us make sense of our own brave little lives? Not many, for sure. But let's say 20.

1. Sandy Koufax
2. Muhammad Ali
3. Dick Butkus
4. Babe Ruth
5. Michael Jordan
6. Mickey Mantle
7. Arnold Palmer
8. Johnny Unitas
9. Wayne Gretzky
10. Bill Russell
11. Sugar Ray Robinson
12. Ted Williams

13. Bo Jackson -- He was a marvel straight out of Marvel Comics. Bo once ran along an outfield wall--parallel to the ground--after making a grab (Vroom!), threw a ball from the warning track to home on the fly to nail a runner (Whoosh!), hit one of the longest homers ever off Nolan Ryan (Pow!), pancaked Brian Bosworth (Wham!) and became the first NFL runner to break off two touchdowns of more than 90 yards (Zoom!). He also made one of the most courageous comebacks in baseball history, playing with an artificial hip. Naturally, Bo homered in his first game back (Gadzooks!).

14. Wilma Rudolph
15. Pancho Gonzalez
16. Jackie Robinson
17. Roberto Clemente
18. Julius Erving
19. Joe Louis
20. Chris Evert

  • SI's Century's Best 

    "No telling what he could have done," said Shell, now offensive line coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. "Probably gotten over 2,000 yards without any problem. We would wonder what he would do with a 16-game schedule, but you knew that couldn't happen. We were just happy to have him for the time we did have him."

    In his first Monday night football game, his first national television exposure, he gained 221 yards in 18 carries against Seattle including a 91-yard touchdown, leaving Brian Bosworth and every other onlooker slack-jawed.

    He played 7 games with the Raiders in 1987, then 10, 11, and 10, reporting after full seasons with the Royals. For 38 football games, he averaged 73.2 yards a game. That's comparable to the 72.8-yards per game average of Gale Sayers over his 68-game career. Jackson's per carry average of 5.4 yards was better than Jim Brown's NFL record 5.22 and better than Sayers' 5.0.

    The playoff game against Cincinnati was Jackson's first and last. He gained 77 yards in six carries.

    "Amazing" and "phenomenal" were two descriptions Shell used. Spectacular is most accurate, a fair trade for longevity in the scope of sports memories.

    "People underestimated his speed," Shell said. "I remember the defensive backs taking an angle the way they do a normal back and he just ran right by them. Like a blaze."

    "He was the kind of guy you could not say he can't do this and can't do that," Shell said. "He was always out to prove you wrong and show you that Bo can do if he wants to do. The greatest thing was his competitiveness. He refused to be beaten. He refused to let somebody catch him. He would get angry."

    Fact of the matter: After Jackson's hip injury ended his NFL career, he continued to play major league baseball (Kansas City Royals (1986-90) and Chicago White Sox (1991, 1993-94)). In his first at-bat with the White Sox after hip replacement surgery, he hit a home run on his first swing of the bat. 

    Gale Sayers
    Chicago Bears (1965-1971)
    Year  Team  Rush  Yards  Avg.  TDs 
    1965  Chi.  14  166  867  5.2  14 
    1966  Chi.  14  229  1,231  5.4 
    1967  Chi.  13  186  880  4.7 
    1968  Chi.  138  856  6.2 
    1969  Chi.  14  236  1,032  4.4 
    1970  Chi.  23  52  2.3 
    1971  Chi.  13  38  2.9 
    Totals      68   991   4,956   5.0   39  
    After the glory ...
    That was then: December 10, 1995, Chicago Tribune

    On Sunday, Dec. 12, 1965, Gale Sayers conquered muddy Wrigley Field and the San Francisco 49ers by scoring six touchdowns, tying a National Football League record. On Monday, Dec. 13, 1965, Sayers dragged his tired body out of his comfy bed and went to work at a LaSalle Street brokerage firm.

    The morning after one of the greatest performances in pro football history, "The Kansas Comet" was working the phones at his other job, trying to get people to invest in the stock market. If a player scored six touchdowns in a game in 1995, he might spend the next day hanging out in his mansion, waiting to be interviewed by ESPN while his team of agents renegotiated his shoe deal.

    If You Pay Them ...
    A sampling of what some big names pull in for a public appearance:
    Name  Fee 
    Muhammad Ali  $100,000 
    Magic Johnson  $75,000 
    Joe Montana  $75,000  
    Chi Chi Rodriguez  $45,000 
    Tommy Lasorda  $45,000 
    Ernie Banks  $35,000 
    Jackie Joyner-Kersee  $32,000 
    Pete Rose  $30,000 
    Mary Lou Retton  $25,000 
    Cheryl Miller  $18,500 
    Gale Sayers   $15,000  
    Bruce Jenner  $15,000 
    Nadia Comaneci  $12,500 
    Mike Eruzione  $10,000 
    Whitey Herzog  $5,000 

    "I didn't live in a mansion, ESPN didn't exist back then, and I didn't have a shoe deal," Sayers said. "It was a different era. I was just trying to earn a living, so I went to my second job. It's just the way it was."

    Thirty years later, Sayers is still trying to earn a living, and he's doing it in a very big way. The youngest man ever elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame is president and chief executive officer of Sayers Computer Source.

    After Sayers left the Bears in 1971, a career that ended after only 68 games because of knee injuries, he sought a new challenge by becoming the assistant athletic director at the University of Kansas, his alma mater. He later became athletic director at Southern Illinois University.

    "When I retired at age 28, I couldn't rest on my football career," said Sayers, 52. "My highest salary with the Bears was $80,000, which was good money in those days, but I certainly wasn't in a position to retire from life.

    "Today, players make millions of dollars a year and can afford to sit around and do nothing. Players from my era couldn't do that. So I went to work at Kansas for $17,000 a year. That was a jolt, but I was doing what I wanted to do."

    He left Southern Illinois in 1981, ready for another challenge. He put out some feelers among the 28 NFL clubs, hoping for a position as a general manager or player personnel director. But there wasn't anything available for a member of the NFL's honorary 50th anniversary team with a master's degree in education.

    So Sayers set out to become a success in business. His weapons were a telephone list, a phone and hard work. "My motivation was simple," he said.

    "'He's nothing but a dumb jock. All he can do is score touchdowns.' I know people say those things sometimes. I wanted to prove that Gale Sayers is deeper than that."

    Fact of the matter: Sayers may be best know for Brian's Song, a 1971 made-for-TV film about the relationship between Sayers and Brian Piccolo -- backfield mates, roommates and soul mates with the Bears. The film starred James Caan and Billy Dee Williams. 


    The Associated Press contributed to this report.