clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Terrell Davis: 2015 NFL Hall of Fame Finalist

New, comments

Before making the case for Terrell Davis' HOF induction, we have to take a look at what the "NFL Hall of Fame" represents.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Usually an entity like the NFL Hall of Fame has a charter or a set of proclamations that outline the exact process by which one can become a member. A checklist of sorts that confirms the validity of the individual to belong. No such thing exists for the NFL Hall of Fame. There is not a neat little set of rules that when applied can confirm or deny a player's candidacy to the Hall. A group of sports writers, one from each football city along with 14 at-large members go through a process that is for the most part shrouded in secrecy. There are several cut downs, specific players are argued for in front of all the selectors, and votes are taken along the way to trim the finalists down into a group of people who will be immortalized in Canton. Anywhere from 4-8 new members are awarded gold jackets each year with 2-3 of those inductees coming from a pool of contributors and nominees from the senior committee.

In order to earn a bust in Canton, an inductee must receive at least 80% of the vote. We have one question we must answer in order to determine whether or not Terrell Davis is worthy for enshrinement: What defines greatness?

When I think of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I immediately think "greatness." You see, the people that are already enshrined embodied "greatness" during their time in the game. For some, it took long careers that allowed specific statistical numbers to be accumulated. For others, it took a run of four or five years filled with championship glory in order to be called "one of the best." Still for others, their contribution to  football altered the course of history and helped mold the game into what it is today. If there is one constant in what makes a candidate "Hall of Fame worthy" it is that no one Hall of Famer is cut from the same mold yet "greatness" binds them all into an exclusive brotherhood.

"Greatness"  is a subjective rubric. It's in the eye of the beholder. For some, "The Pro Football Hall of Fame" is actually "The Pro Football Hall of Championships" or "The Pro Football Hall of Longevity" or even "The Pro Football Hall of Amazing Statistics."

The Pro Football Hall of Longevity?

For Terrell Davis, the one and only factor that has stalled his enshrinement is longevity--as if somehow another couple of 1,000 yard seasons would validate one of the greatest four year runs in NFL history.

Davis played 7 seasons in the NFL, his last three being marked by numerous knee-surgeries and pain stemming from an unfortunate injury suffered early in 1999. While chasing down a defender who intercepted a pass, Davis' right knee was plowed into by tackle Matt Lepsis tearing his ACL and ending his season after just four games. This single event altered the course of Davis' career.

TD would never dominate the game again.

But remember, it is not called "The Pro Football Hall of Longevity."

The average NFL career according to the NFLPA is 3.3 years. The average career for an NFL running back is just 2.5 years.

Greatness is not defined by longevity, longevity being a by-product of many factors including luck. Those that are able to play long careers in the NFL are the exception and not the rule, and those that are able to play the game at the highest level for long periods of time are usually the ones that set themselves apart from their peers.

Davis' career was long  according to the NFLPA's averages by position, yet seems to fall just short enough of whatever magical number Hall of Fame Voters have in mind when considering a candidate.

He didn't play long enough to accumulate 10,000 yards or reach the magic number of 100 touchdowns. But numbers grow as opportunities grow and the more games one plays, the better chance they have at inflating their numbers.

Davis never had that opportunity yet the numbers speak for themselves.

Precedence exists for players being inducted into the Hall of Fame who's careers were cut short by injury.

Gale Sayers

Sayers is a Pro-Football Hall of Fame member (inducted 1977) who played seven years in the NFL. Sayers was a known for being a good all-around player. He made an impact as a kick returner recording 8 punt/kickoffs for touchdowns.

In 7 seasons, Sayers compiled 4,956 yards rushing, 1,307 yards receiving, and 3,172 yards returning for 9,435 all purpose yards. Gale scored a total of 56 touchdowns in his career.

Gale was voted 5-time 1st Team All-Pro and was elected to 4 pro bowls.

In 68 career games, Sayers compiled 20 100-yard rushing games.

As a rookie, he set a then NFL record by scoring 22 touchdowns (14 rushing, 6 receiving, 2 return) and also set the all-time record for kick return average (31.4 yards).

During his fourth season in the league, Sayers tore ligaments in his right knee. The next year he bounced back to lead the league in rushing, but subsequently injured his left knee. From that point on, Sayers played just four more games in his career having never appeared in the postseason as a Bear.

Though his numbers are not as electrifying as Terrell Davis' during his run, Sayers was identified by the Hall of Fame as one of the greats. He was inducted in 1977.

If Sayers is in the Hall, why not Terrell Davis?

In 7 seasons, Terrell Davis compiled 8,287 yards (rushing and receiving), and scored 65 total touchdowns. Davis was a three-down back that also averaged 38 receptions from 1995-1998.

Davis was voted 3-time 1st Team All-Pro and was elected to 3 pro bowls.

In 78 career games, Davis compiled 34 career 100-yard games.

In 97-98, Terrell Davis rushed for 2008 yards winning league MVP honors.

In Super Bowl XXXII he tied the record for most rushing touchdowns in a game (3) on way to becoming the games' MVP.

Terrell is the only back in NFL history to record 7-straight 100 yard rushing games in the postseason.

Davis injured his knee during the fifth game of his firth season and appeared in just 13 games in two seasons after that.

Terrell Davis, pre-injury, was one of the most dominant players in the league over the course of four consecutive seasons. From his rookie season in 1995 to the Broncos 2nd world championship victory in 1998, Davis carved out one of the most impressive resume's among any modern day peer.

Topher Doll was gracious enough to take the time to compile these stats. These totals come from each of these players' best consecutive four-year stretches during their career.

Davis vs. The Field

Player Years Attp Yards TD's Y/A
Sanders 94-97 1287 6989 40 5.43
Dickerson 83-86 1465 6968 55 4.76
Campbell 78-81 1404 6457 55 4.60
E. Smith 92-95 1401 6456 73 4.61
Davis 95-98 1343 6413 56 4.78
Payton 77-80 1358 6317 45 4.65
Barber 03-06 1284 6256 29 4.87
Payton 76-79 1352 6247 52 4.62
Alexander 02-05 1344 6186 73 4.60
Tomlinson 01-04 1363 6089 54 4.47
Tomlinson 03-06 1341 6086 78 4.54
Lewis 00-04 1239 5763 33 4.65
Green 00-03 1208 5685 41 4.71
Johnson 08-11 1187 5645 38 4.76
Thomas 90-93 1226 5506 33 4.49
Holmes 01-04 1156 5482 70 4.74
E. James 03-06 1341 5472 39 4.08
Lynch 11-14 1181 5357 48 4.54

Terrell Davis Four-Year stretch (1995-1998)

accumulated the 7th most carries (1343)

ran for the 5th most yards (6413)

scored the 5th most touchdowns on the ground (55)

registered the 3rd highest per carry average (4.78) yards per rush

There are 18 different four-year stretches listed here, and in every major category, Davis is near in the top third of his peers.

In 61 regular season games during this stretch, Terrell Davis registered 32 100-yard games.

A player deserving

So far what I've outlined is one of the most dominant runs by a running back in NFL history--and I haven't even begun to break down his postseason numbers. His four-year stretch in the regular season is impressive and should bring to mind performances of sheer dominance and greatness.

One freak injury should not be enough to derail Terrell Davis' enshrinement to the Pro-Football Hall of Fame.

It was what Davis did with his time that matters, and when you measure his success against any other running back in history, Terrell Davis belongs.

Davis vs. The Hall of Fame

A few years ago, I did an extensive statistical study on Terrell Davis' postseason performance and stacked it up against every modern day NFL RB that had already been elected to the hall.

Player

G

Rush

A/G

R

Yards

A/G

R

TD

A/G

R

Marcus Allen

16

267

16.7

11

1247

77.9

8

11

0.69

8

Jim Brown

4

66

16.5

12

241

60.3

14

1

0.25

13

Earl Campbell

6

135

22.5

3

420

70.0

11

4

0.67

9

Larry Csonka

12

225

18.8

8

891

74.3

9

9

1.17

4

Eric Dickerson

7

148

20.1

6

724

103.4

3

3

0.43

12

Tony Dorsett

17

302

17.8

10

1383

81.4

6

9

0.53

10

Marshall Faulk

12

165

13.8

15

602

50.2

15

6

0.50

11

Franco Harris

19

400

21.1

4

1556

81.9

5

16

0.84

5

Curtis Martin

10

182

18.2

9

795

79.5

7

8

0.80

6

Walter Payton

9

180

20.0

7

632

70.2

10

2

0.22

14

Barry Sanders

6

91

15.2

14

386

64.3

13

1

0.17

15

Emmitt Smith

17

349

20.5

5

1586

93.3

4

19

1.12

3

Thurman Thomas

21

339

16.1

13

1442

68.7

12

16

0.76

7

John Riggins

9

251

27.9

1

996

110.7

2

12

1.33

2

Terrell Davis

8

204

25.5

2

1140

142.5

1

12

1.50

1

Add another 1K yards and 12 touchdowns to TD's impressive resume.

When you break things down into averages to account for the varied amounts of postseason games each Hall of Famer appeared in, Davis is near the top in each category.

- 2nd in carries per game behind John Riggins

- 1st in yards per game average

- 4th overall in total touchdowns and 1st in average touchdowns per game

- Tied for 1st with Emmitt Smith for most 100-yard games (7)

Player

G

100 yd games

Rank

Marcus Allen

16

5

3

Jim Brown

4

1

6

Earl Campbell

6

1

6

Larry Csonka

12

4

4

Eric Dickerson

7

3

5

Tony Dorsett

17

3

5

Marshall Faulk

12

1

6

Franco Harris

19

5

3

Curtis Martin

10

3

5

Walter Payton

9

1

6

Barry Sanders

6

1

6

Emmitt Smith

17

7

1

Thurman Thomas

21

6

2

John Riggins

9

6

2

Terrell Davis

8

7

1

Davis on Davis

When I conducted an exclusive interview with Terrell Davis, I asked him to make his case for the Hall of Fame and here's what he had to say:

"I would probably bring the case, you mention, based on the big moment. I've had one of the greatest postseason records in the history of the game. To me it's a question about longevity or impact.  Is it the longevity or the impact a player makes? If you base it on longevity then the conversation is over. But if you look at my career there's nothing else I could have accomplished. Look at my numbers, I think I averaged 142 yards per game in the postseason. Go back and look at the big moments, when the games were at stake my performances speak for themselves regular season and postseason. You have the tape, watch the tape--watch the games you'll see that I belong."

I would contend it's only about longevity if a player's production needed to be fluffed up to satisfy the bean counters.

Davis nailed it right on the head. His dominance during the playing days trumps the three seasons he struggled with injury.

His production in the regular season and postseason is something special. Something that is defined by one word: "Greatness"

His accomplishments speak for themselves. His numbers tell the story of a player who was able to carry an entire team, even when his HOF quarterback was struggling with an injury-riddled final season.

The impact of Terrell Davis on the Denver Broncos is simple.

Without him on this team, John Elway retires without ever having won a Super Bowl.

The Hall of Fame is missing one of its Greats

If after reading this--reading about Terrell's career accomplishments, if you don't think that he is worthy of the Hall of Fame, there is nothing a few more seasons of accumulating numbers would have done to change your mind.

Terrell Davis produced at the highest level over a handful of years; even with injury, there is nothing more Davis could have accomplished.

In closing, it takes some backs ten or more seasons to build a career as accomplished and esteemed as Terrell Davis.

The fact that Davis did all it in four should not be held against him.  From 1995-1998 he was simply the best and his production helped carry a franchise to two Super Bowl Victories.

Does Terrell Davis belong?

Without a doubt.