Terrell Davis’ journey to the Pro Football Hall of Fame almost ended before it began.
After playing one season at Long Beach State University under Pro Football Hall of Fame coach George Allen and three seasons for Ray Goff at the University of Georgia, Davis was selected in the sixth round by the Denver Broncos in 1995.
Training camp was a struggle for the 196th overall pick, and adding to his frustration was his lack of reps at running back.
Then the Broncos traveled to Tokyo to play a preseason game Aug. 6, 1995 against the San Francisco 49ers. That week of practice was so bad for Davis, he considered quitting and flying home.
Davis was a gamer, though, and burst on the NFL scene during a third-quarter kickoff when he broke through San Francisco’s line of blockers and leveled 49ers returner Tyronne Drakeford. The hit impressed the Broncos’ coaching staff and led to Davis earning more reps, carries and, ultimately, the starting running back spot during his rookie season.
“He was the ultimate pro,” said his longtime running backs coach, Bobby Taylor. “He played just as hard and just as nasty without the ball in his hand as he did with the ball. He was consistent. He was right there when it comes down to being the toughest player I’ve ever coached.”
On Nov. 5, 1995, Davis recorded his first 100-yard game, rushing for 135 yards on 22 carries in a 38-6 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.
After rushing for 1,117 yards as a rookie, he gained 1,538 yards during his second season and 1,750 yards in this third year.
In 1998, Davis joined exclusive company when he eclipsed the 2,000-yard rushing mark for a single season. On Dec. 27, against the Seattle Seahawks during Denver’s regular-season finale, he rushed for 178 yards on 29 carries. That total gave him 2,008 yards on the year and the Broncos a 28-21 victory.
Davis is one of eight NFL running backs in the 2,000-yard club, including O.J. Simpson (1973), Eric Dickerson (1984), Barry Sanders (1997), Jamal Lewis (2003), Chris Johnson (2009), Adrian Peterson (2012) and Derrick Henry (2020).
In eight career postseason games with the Broncos, Davis rushed for 1,140 yards. He helped the Broncos post a 7-1 record and back-to-back Super Bowl championships.
“You get guys made up like Terrell Davis and you win championships,” said his former head coach, Mike Shanahan. “He played great during the regular season, but when he went to the playoffs, that’s when he separated himself.”
Davis holds the NFL record for most consecutive postseason games (seven) with 100 or more yards rushing and average yards per attempt in the postseason with 5.59.
He went on to play 78 regular-season games (77 starts) in the NFL from 1995-2001 and led Denver to a record of 51-27 during that span.
In 86 career games, including playoffs, Davis rushed for 100 yards or more 41 times. At the time of his retirement, only he and Hall of Famer Jim Brown averaged more than 100 yards rushing in both NFL regular-season and postseason games combined.
“My career would not have ended the way it did without T.D.; the Denver Broncos would not have done what we did without T.D.,” Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway said. “He changed things. We had a championship team, we won two world championships, we did the things you have to do, approached the game the way you need to in order to win a championship. But I believe we wouldn’t have taken the final step without T.D.’’
In 2017, Davis became the first former Long Beach State player, second former Georgia running back (Charley Trippi) and only the second sixth-round draft pick to be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Jon Kendle is Vice President of Archives, Education & Football Information at the Pro Football Hall of Fame