Green Bay Packers Hall of Famer Willie Davis was a player who many teams overlooked before and during the early part of his NFL career. Davis, who was a two-way lineman at Grambling State University, wasn’t drafted until the 15th round of the 1956 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. Before playing one down in the NFL though, Davis served in the Army, and he didn’t join the Browns until 1958.
Born in Lisbon, Louisiana, the 6’3, 240-pound Davis had great NFL size, and the Browns tried to play him at offensive tackle. After two seasons in Cleveland, the Browns traded Davis to Green Bay for offensive lineman A.D. Williams.
After the sudden trade to the Packers, Davis was reportedly so frustrated that he had considered quitting football. The Browns obviously didn’t see what Packers’ head coach Vince Lombardi saw in Davis. Lombardi awed Davis’ athleticism in the trenches, and he immediately switched Davis from offensive line to defensive end.
Lombardi reportedly said “I consider speed, agility, and size to be the three most important attributes to a successful lineman. Give me a man who has any of those two dimensions and he’ll do okay. But give him all three and he’ll be great. We think (Davis) has all three”.
Davis not only had all three traits, but he showed intelligence and dedication, on and off the field, for the Packers. While donning the number 87 jersey for his final ten NFL seasons (all with the Packers), Davis played 138 consecutive games, and helped the Packers win five NFL titles (and the first two Super Bowls).
From 1962-1967, Davis was selected to five Pro Bowls, and he was named to six All-Pro teams. Davis later was named to the NFL’s 1960’s All-Decade Team. In his career, Davis intercepted two passes and recovered a team record 21 fumbles. After Davis’ retirement in 1969, the Packers honored his retirement with a Willie Davis Day on December 21, 1969.
During Davis’ era, sacks were not an official NFL statistic, but he was a true menace off of the edge in Green Bay. According to Professional Football Researchers Association researcher and statistician John Turney, Davis recorded between 100 and 120 sacks in his last ten seasons, and he recorded at least 40 sacks from 1963-1965.
Only two active players (Jared Allen, Demarcus Ware) today have recorded more sacks in the last ten NFL seasons. In the past ten NFL seasons (2003-2012), Allen, Ware, and former NFL defensive end Simeon Rice are the only NFL players to record more than 40 sacks in a three-year span.
In 1986, Davis was named the Walter Camp Man of the Year by the Walter Camp foundation for his close work with the game of football as a player and commentator. The Walter Camp Man of the Year Award typically recognizes a person who has been a leader in his profession, while contributing to public service while showing outstanding integrity. In 1987, Davis was given the Career Achievement Award by the NFL.
In 1981, Davis was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. A feared defender of the 1960’s, Davis was ranked the 69th greatest football player by The Sporting News in 1999 on their list of the “100 Greatest Football Players”.
Davis is one of the NFL’s greatest players who many NFL fans may know little or nothing about. Known as a model citizen off of the field since his retirement in 1969, Davis today is an esteemed member of the Green Bay Packers Board of Directors.
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