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- Feb 5:
- Panthers all-pro linebacker Luke Kuechly's interceptions are a
- bonus for Super Bowl 50
- Carolina Panthers' defense intact for Super Bowl 50 vs. Denver Broncos
- Lights, cameras, action: CBS ready to televise a great show
- Broncos fans take in VIP tour of San Francisco Bay
- Terrell Davis believes Peyton Manning's career is at an end
- DeMarcus Ware returns to Bay Area in search of another first: a ring
- Kiszla: Advantage, Broncos? Chris Harris says Denver's super defense will back it up
SAN FRANCISCO — With a Broncos flag waving from the window of the cockpit, the chartered Boeing 767 wheeled gingerly to Mineta San Jose International Airport, where black-and-gold Super Bowl 50 barriers lined the tarmac to keep back the cheering fans last Sunday.
Slowly the United flight came to a stop, and the airstairs soon turned into a red carpet for the Broncos, their coaches and their flamboyant suits.
Standing at the base, awaiting their arrival, was Terrell Davis, a former tailback who twice had been in their position, in 1998 and 1999. He stood bearing gifts, Super Bowl 50 caps, that he handed out, one by one to the players. With a history of delivering in big moments, Davis was again a part of one of the biggest in Broncos history.
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Saturday, less than 24 hours before the AFC champion Broncos take the field in the Super Bowl, Davis hopes to stand in the spotlight one more time. For the 10th time since retiring from the NFL in 2002, the two-time Super Bowl champion and Denver's all-time leading rusher is hoping this is the year he will be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He also is hoping former Broncos safeties John Lynch and Steve Atwater join him.
"I think I delivered"
There was always something about the brightest lights and the biggest stages that turned Davis, a three-time Pro Bowl and first-team all-pro selection, into a machine.
Why? How? Not even he knows. But there was a bit of trickery involved.
"I knew how big those moments were and I was comfortable," he said. "Part of it was I knew I was prepared for it. Previous years, in high school and college, maybe I didn't want that. I didn't want the pressure of having to perform in big games, but somehow I worked through that and just started to embrace those moments. Really, what helped me was looking at every game the same."
The mind games created a consistency at a high level that few achieved. Drafted by the Broncos in the sixth round (No. 196 overall) in 1995, Davis produced a franchise-record 7,607 rushing yards and 60 rushing touchdowns on 1,655 carries (4.6 average) in regular-season games. He rushed for at least 1,000 yards in each of his first four seasons — including 2,008, the fourth-most in NFL history, during his 1998 MVP season.
But it was the postseason when the legend of Davis grew.
In Super Bowl XXXII, Davis played through a migraine to rush for 157 yards and score three touchdowns in a 31-24 victory over the Packers. He was named Super Bowl MVP, likely the only MVP to have won the award without having his vision for parts of the game.
The next year, in Super Bowl XXXIII, Davis delivered 102 rushing yards to go with 50 receiving yards in a 34-19 victory over the Falcons.
All told in the playoffs, Davis gained a team-record 1,140 rushing yards for an average of 142.5 yards per game, and tallied 100 or more rushing yards in the last seven of his eight playoff appearances.
And by the end of his career, Davis had seven consecutive playoff games with 100 or more rushing yards.
"I took pride in being at my best when the moment was big," he said. "That's one thing that I can live with. I don't know how to compare stuff to players and whether I was the best in the game when I played. I just knew that for whatever my team needed me to do or whatever the coaches asked me to do, I think I delivered."
Davis did deliver, but the biggest and perhaps only argument against his election to the Hall of Fame has been the length of his career. Knee injuries pushed him out after only seven seasons, a tenure too short in the eyes of many voters.
"We were talking about players like him and another one that comes to mind is Sterling Sharpe, who, like Terrell, had a great career for the period of time that he played, and both careers were cut short through no fault of their own, through injuries," said Joe Horrigan, executive vice president of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. "Is it fair that they are slower to get recognized because of the length of their career, when they were both great players when they played? That is the burning question, and they're not alone in that. There are many players who have been delayed for induction because of it, or others like Gale Sayers, who was elected in his first year of eligibility although he had a brief career. It was kind of the exception."
"I'm still in this race"
Davis pulled up a seat at the round conference table inside San Francisco's Moscone Center on Thursday afternoon. He was prepared — as much as he could be, anyway — for the peppering of questions.
"I don't want to talk about the Broncos," he joked. "We don't need to talk about them today, right? Nah."
Davis, now an analyst for NFL Network, cannot escape his past or his ties to the Broncos. He doesn't want to. This weekend, however, his attention is divided.
Saturday, the Hall of Fame's 46-person selection committee will review his résumé once again. The voters will relive his Super Bowl moments, analyze and compare his statistics, debate his place among the sport's greatest and among his fellow Class of 2016 finalists. A maximum of five modern-era players on the list of 15 finalists have a chance to make it. With senior finalists Ken Stabler and Dick Stanfel and contributor finalist Edward DeBartolo Jr., up to eight new members could be selected for induction in Canton, Ohio.
"I'm excited about the possibility of it happening," Davis said. "But I also have to be prepared if it doesn't happen. Obviously I'll be disappointed, but until they tell me no, right now I'm still in this race, so I'll stay excited."
Saturday night, during the two-hour "NFL Honors" ceremony, Davis, Lynch and Atwater will learn if their year has come. If their legacy is set. If their busts will join John Elway's (2004), Gary Zimmerman's (2008), Floyd Little's (2010) and Shannon Sharpe's (2011) on display in Canton.
They're hoping to wear another hat, as Hall of Famers.
"It would be great if we all went in at the same time," Davis said. "That would be a great class, right? That would be awesome, especially if Denver won and we all go in ... Super Bowl 50. That'd be nice."
Pro Football Hall of Fame finalists
The Pro Football Hall of Fame's 46-person selection committee will begin the voting process around 6 a.m. Saturday in San Francisco. The list of 15 modern-era finalists will be debated and 10 will be selected. Those 10 will be discussed against and a maximum of five, each needing at least 80 percent of the votes, can be elected. The two senior finalists, Ken Stabler and Dick Stanfel, and the contributor finalist, Edward DeBartolo, Jr., need to receive 80 percent of the votes, too, meaning the Class of 2016 could include up to eight people. CBS will televise a two-hour show at 7 p.m. Mountain time, with Conan O'Brien hosting, to announce the new Hall of Fame members.
The 15 Modern-Era Finalists:
Terrell Davis, RB, 2-time finalist
Steve Atwater, S, 1-time finalist
John Lynch, S, 3-time finalist
Brett Favre, QB, 1-time finalist
Terrell Owens, WR, 1-time finalist
Kurt Warner, QB, 2-time finalist
Morten Andersen, K, 3-time finalist
Alan Faneca, G, 1-time finalist
Kevin Greene, DL, 5-time finalist
Marvin Harrison, WR, 3-time finalist
Joe Jacoby, T, 1-time finalist
Edgerrin James, RB, 1-time finalist
Orlando Pace, T, 2-time finalist
Don Coryell, coach, 3-time finalist
Tony Dungy, coach, 3-time finalist
Ken Stabler, QB, 4-time finalist
Dick Stanfel, G, 3-time finalist
Edward DeBartolo, Jr., Owner
Broncos' Pro Football Hall of Fame finalists
Terrell Davis, RB
Davis played only seven seasons because of injuries but compiled 7,607 yards rushing and 60 touchdowns, both franchise records. Drafted in the sixth round (No. 196) of the 1995 draft, Davis rushed for at least 1,000 yards in each of his first four seasons, including 2,008 during his MVP season of 1998. A three-time Pro Bowl and first-team all-pro selection, Davis rushed for 157 yards and a record three touchdowns in Super Bowl XXXII to earn the game's MVP honors. His seven consecutive playoff games with 100 or more yards rushing and his 5.59-yard playoff rushing average are NFL records.
John Lynch, S
Buccaneers (1993-2003), Broncos (2004-07)
Drafted by the Buccaneers out of Stanford in the third round (No. 82) of the 1993 draft, Lynch signed with the Broncos as a free agent in 2004. He was named to the Pro Bowl in each of his four seasons with the Broncos and totaled 304 tackles (215 solo), seven sacks, three interceptions, 26 passes defensed, nine forced fumbles and one fumble recovery during his time with the team. Including his 11 seasons in Tampa Bay, Lynch compiled 1,227 career tackles (789 solo), 13 sacks, 26 interceptions, 100 passes defensed, 16 forced fumbles and eight fumble recoveries.
Steve Atwater, S
Broncos (1989-98), Jets (1999)
The hard-hitting Atwater played 10 of his 11 NFL seasons in Denver after the Broncos drafted him in the first round (No. 20) of the 1989 draft. Selected to a franchise record-tying seven straight Pro Bowls from 1990-96, Atwater totaled 1,356 tackles (854 solo), 24 interceptions and five sacks in 167 career games, and played in three Super Bowls with the Broncos, helping them win their first ring in Super Bowl XXXII.
Nicki Jhabvala, The Denver Post