Running from stardom Denver's Terrell Davis plays like a star, but doesn't act like one

Super Bowl Xxxii

January 23, 1998|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

SAN DIEGO -- The Denver Broncos' Terrell Davis is a star running back who doesn't conduct himself like a superstar.

No designer clothes. No flashy jewelry. No custom shades. There isn't an entourage, and the only slight hint of extravagance is a suburban home that is within minutes of his mother's apartment and a home-cooked meal.

His favorite night out includes playing Madden Football '97 on Sega Video. His image is so clean that Nike, Reebok and ESPN were just a few of the companies that participated in a poll that selected Davis as one of the top 10 athletes in the country that sports agencies would like to be affiliated with.

He was embarrassed and had to be coaxed to appear on a recent "Late Show With David Letterman."

"The only truly extravagant thing he does is use a different name at the team hotel when we're on the road because he wants privacy," said Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe. "Actually, Terrell is either a very humble person or clueless to what has happened to him in the last couple of years."

It's been a rocket ride for Davis. He grew up a poor kid in a tough San Diego neighborhood. His first college dropped its program after one year. It led him to another college where a coach didn't play him to a league where no one really wanted to draft him.

And now, swoosh. Terrell Davis, 25, is the best running back in the NFL after Detroit's Barry Sanders -- and he'll talk about nearly anything and everything except himself.

And he doesn't have to. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound Davis rushed for 1,538 yards and 13 touchdowns in 1996 and had an AFC-best 1,750 yards and 15 touchdowns this season.

The compliments are endless.

"Terrell Davis is the American Dream," said Broncos receiver Ed McCaffrey. "He is an inspiration to every kid who has dreamed. And then to overcome, and remain so humble, it's a great story."

The story began in Lincoln Park, an area 15 minutes drive southeast of San Diego. There are far worse areas in America, but probably not in San Diego.

"For most people it would be considered tough; the drugs, the fights and some gangs," said Roy Reed, Davis' former assistant coach at Lincoln High. "Terrell will never complain. It was home."

It still is. Lincoln High has produced 25 NFL players, including Raiders running back Marcus Allen, but Davis might be the school's favorite son. He returns often and recently brought the basketball team shoes and warm-up suits. He recently matched a corporate gift by presenting the school with a $10,000 check.

Earlier this week, the school had a Super Bowl Homecoming for Davis. All of this for Davis, the former No. 7 and nose guard at Lincoln.

Nose guard? Davis didn't play at Lincoln until his junior year and was moved to running back a year later.

"We had some great talent ahead of him," said Reed. "Terrell was just happy to be playing."

Playing nose guard was just another bizarre moment in Davis' life. He has more comebacks than Muhammad Ali. Consider:

When Davis was in the ninth grade, his father died of lupus, a disease that weakens the immune system and produces inflammation that attacks organs throughout the body. While in college, a close cousin was shot and killed near Lincoln.

One year after he entered Long Beach State as a freshman, the school closed its program after legendary coach George Allen died of a heart attack.

"When you lose one parent at a young age, you get closer to the other," said Davis. "And when you meet death face to face as a child, you grow up in a hurry.

"I had my problems as a child after my father's death, especially in school. It took me a while, but I finally got my life straightened out. The death of George Allen also was a setback, but you have to go on."

Davis transferred to Georgia where he had to sit behind a great running back named Garrison Hearst. The Bulldogs also featured a passing attack led by a quarterback named Eric Zeier. Davis finished his career at Georgia with with 1,657 yards on 317 carries and 15 touchdowns. He missed substantial playing time his senior year because of a shoulder injury.

He entertained no thoughts of being drafted. As a matter of fact, he went to a street party instead of watching the event on TV. When the Broncos selected him in the sixth round of the 1995 draft, Davis told relatives his goal was to make the practice squad.

It took Davis only several preseason games in his rookie season to impress the Broncos. Only four running backs have posted 20 100-yard games faster than Davis and no Broncos running back achieved 3,000 yards faster.

"There's a lot of things I look back on and say, 'I'm proud of that,' but ultimately there's not one thing I can point to and say this is my proudest moment," said Davis. "I can't say that right now. If things go well on Sunday, then obviously that would be it."

Game data

Denver Broncos (15-4) vs. Green Bay Packers (15-3)

Site: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego

When: Sunday, 6 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 11, 4/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Packers by 11 1/2

Coming Sunday

On Sunday, look for a special section previewing the Super Bowl, with analysis, statistics, history and a guide to football -- a complete package for the knowledgeable or novice fan.

Terrell Davis' 1997 rushing stats

Regular season

Wk. Opp. ......... Yards

1 Kansas City ...... 101

2 at Seattle ....... 107

3 St. Louis ........ 103

4 Cincinnati ....... 215

5 at Atlanta ........ 79

6 New England ...... 171

8 at Oakland ........ 85

9 at Buffalo ....... 207

10 Seattle ......... 101

11 Carolina ........ 104

12 at Kansas City .. 127

13 Oakland .......... 69

14 at San Diego .... 178

15 at Pittsburgh .... 75

16 at San Fran. .... 28

17 San Diego ....... DNP

Postseason

Jacksonville ....... 184

at Kansas City ..... 101

at Pittsburgh ...... 139

Pub Date: 1/23/98

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