Davis Proves a Point

I remember the moment that Stephen Davis realized his Redskins career was over. It was a tough sight. Inside the dump known as Veterans Stadium, reporters surrounded Davis in this late-season game after he had left the game with a knee injury.

Everyone knew what the injury meant: his days as a Redskin likely had ended. So I asked him if he wondered whether or not he'd carry the ball for Washington again. He didn't like the question, snapping at me, ``Are you trying to run me out of town?'' I'm not the one doing that, I said; that would be the front office.

Later, he and I talked again by ourselves. With tears forming in his eyes, Davis said he knew his days here were over. And, yes, that made it tough.

``I love all you guys,'' he said.

And during his time here, I loved watching him run. Which is why I'm so happy for Davis now that he gets a chance to play in the biggest game of the year, and his life. He's earned it.

I saw him grow up from a guy with potential to a guy headed to Pro Bowls. En route to all the success Davis never got a big head; he just got T-shirts with his mug plastered on them (Believe in Stephen). He remained humble to his southern roots, always wondering why people wanted to talk to him. He wasn't as accommodating as Champ Bailey or Fred Smoot, but he was always kind.

And he was a team player. I remember talking to him after he missed the Pro Bowl two years ago. The backs in front of him all played with quarterbacks either headed to Hawaii themselves or ones who narrowly missed. Davis played that year with Jeff George and Tony Banks. So I pointed that out to him, but Davis just kind of smirked and said he didn't want to rip his teammates. That wasn't my intention -- I wanted to point out how much more he had to do than some others. He just saw himself as one piece of the puzzle.

He wasn't a great quote -- he was usually bland. Though one day late last season, after the injury, he opened up even more and said he wasn't sure why he didn't fit in with Steve Spurrier. That's a question I couldn't answer, either. Spurrier never figured out that having a top back could actually open up his passing attack. Nor did he seem to realize just how vital Davis' blitz pickups were.

But don't blame Spurrier alone for Davis' departure. Blame his agent. When Davis signed the so-called richest contract in the NFL a few years back, his agent, Steven Weinstein, crowed about it to reporters. Except that it made his client highly cutable just a couple years later. Congrats, Mr. Agent; you just cost Washington its best back.

Davis came a long way in Washington. He went from being known as Michael Westbrook's punching bag to a fullback to a guy challenging Skip Hicks for the starting job. Imagine that: Skip Hicks and Davis. It seems like such a lopsided battle now. But at the time few thought Davis would get the nod.

Even then-coach Norv Turner figured Hicks would win. Before one of the last preseason games, a Redskins employee asked Turner which back he should feature on the cover of the Game Day magazine. Turner told him to put Hicks on the cover.

But Davis became the heart of the Redskins with his tough inside runs. He ran lower than he ever had and became a force, always gaining more yards than were available. It's a gift he still has. Some wondered whether he belonged among the NFL's elite. I never did, simply because of all the attention he received from defenses when he ran -- not to mention the often mediocre quarterback play. The Redskins constantly saw eight-man fronts. They saw very few this season.

Now he's helped lead Carolina to the Super Bowl. He's carried a load for the Panthers' offense, as well as a chip on his shoulder. He doesn't talk much about his release from Washington, but anyone who knows Stephen knows how much it drove him. And probably still does.

But anyone who knows him also knows how hard it hit him when he realized he must leave Washington. And that's why I couldn't be happier for him. Just like I was for Brad Johnson a year ago -- though he was here a much shorter time.

Davis has proven that he still belongs among the elite running backs. It's too bad that it took a move to Carolina to prove it. But his heart, at least a part of it, remains here.

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