Someday he may grow weary of these gigs. For now, however, making triumphant returns is still a novelty for Terrell Davis.
It was shortly before lunch period when Davis, a second-year running back with the Denver Broncos, paid a recent visit to his old high school, Lincoln Academy in San Diego. Kickoff for the Hornets' game with Scripps Ranch High wasn't until 3 p.m., which left plenty of time for the 24-year-old Davis, class of '90, to pull up a folding chair in the football office and shoot the breeze with a few of his former coaches. At one point Davis suggested that they break out a VCR and check out some of Lincoln's stirring victories of yore.
Who could blame Davis for feeling nostalgic? Here he was, the NFL's leading rusher, returning to the scene of past glories—glories achieved not so much by Davis, truth be told, as by other Lincoln players. Just beyond the windows of the football office lay the field Davis used as a springboard to, well, a mediocre college career. For Davis, who would head up the NFL's Alltime Late-Bloomers Team if such a squad were ever named, Lincoln's field was where it all didn't begin.
Vic Player, who coached Lincoln off and on for 20 years, resigned following the 1993 season. He and current coach Tony Jackson were in the office this day, along with Chali Brown ("I don't pronounce a lot of my r's," Brown said, explaining his oddly spelled first name), who coaches the team's wide receivers and whose son Charles Jr. played in the same backfield as Davis—and outshone him.
Back then, who didn't outshine Davis? Eight players from Lincoln's 1989 squad, which went 12-2 and lost in the 2A city championship game, received Division I-A scholarships. Davis was among them only because the coaches at Long Beach State were persuaded by one of their tailbacks—Terrell's older brother Reggie Webb—to take a flier on this fullback-noseguard-kicker who could play guard in a pinch.
Davis's problem—and it didn't turn out to be such a problem, did it?—was that he came late to the game. He didn't play football until his junior year in high school, after transferring to Lincoln from nearby Morse High. That season he played noseguard. Blocking Davis "was like trying to block a greased pig," said Jackson. As a senior Davis played both ways, at noseguard and fullback. In the off-season he ran track. "He still holds the school record in the discus," Player said.
"Is that up on the wall yet?" Davis asked. The coaches laughed, and Davis had his answer. Track and field records are posted on a board in the school's spartan locker room, but the discus record, among others, hasn't been updated this decade.
Even as he grumbled, "I get no respect around here," Davis had trouble wiping the grin off his face. This is part of his shtick whenever he visits Lincoln. In the front hallway is a glass-encased shrine to Marcus Allen, who graduated in 1978 and won the Heisman Trophy at Southern Cal before embarking on his storied NFL career. Lincoln has retired Allen's number 9; an enormous portrait of the Kansas City Chiefs running back hangs in the school's main office, as if this were Iraq and Allen were Saddam Hussein.
"And I can't even get my discus record on the wall," said Davis. Again his indignation was feigned, though one might sympathize with him if it hadn't been. It is Davis, after all, who leads the league with 817 yards rushing, and who on Sunday in a 45-34 win over the Baltimore Ravens, ran for a team-record 194 yards and two touchdowns. It was Davis, a sixth-round pick, who became the lowest-drafted player in NFL history to run for more than 1,000 yards. Early this season he gained 100 or more yards in four straight games, a streak that ended on Oct. 6, when he got a migraine during a 28-17 win over the San Diego Chargers and sat out the second quarter.
Davis has suffered from migraines all his life, but until this season he has never been unable to play football because of them. After absorbing a monster shot from Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Lonnie Marts in the second quarter of Denver's game against the Bucs on Sept. 15, however, Davis left the game with a burgeoning headache. "It got to the point where I couldn't see anything," says Davis. "It was a blur out there." After taking a migraine medication called Lidicaine, he returned in the second half and carried the Broncos to victory, rushing for 94 of his 137 yards and the go-ahead touchdown in a 27-23 win. There would be no such heroics against the Chargers; on that day his migraine conquered his medicine.