For a good 15 years of his recent life, Terrell Davis had to deal with a qualifier.
Yeah, Terrell, you sure were a great Denver Broncos’ running back. Too bad your career was cut short.
“Now that this happened, I don’t ever have to worry about that issue anymore,’’ Davis said in Thursday in a Pro Football Hall of Fame conference call. “It was in the back of my mind that maybe I didn’t play long enough and maybe that would be the one thing that the voters would hold against me. I feel great that I no longer have to answer that.’’
Davis’ greatness was in the first four seasons of his career, which included back-to-back postseasons in which he led – maybe even carried -- the Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowl titles in 1997-98.
He rushed for 1,117 yards as a rookie in 1995 despite missing the final two games with a hamstring tear. He rushed for 1,538 yards and 13 touchdowns in 1996. He rushed for 1,750 yards 15 touchdowns in 1997, then added 184, 101, 139 and 157 rushing yards with 8 combined touchdowns in four postseason games. The 157 yards and three touchdowns against the Green Bay Packers made him MVP of the second-biggest upset in Super Bowl history (Joe Namath’s Jets defeating Earl Morrall’s Colts will always be No. 1).
In 1998, Davis rushed for 2,008 yards and 21 touchdowns. He added 199, 167 and 102 yards in three postseason games.
A case can be made that was greatest single-season by a running back in NFL history. Eric Dickerson set the regular-season record with 2,105 rushing yards in 1984, but he only added 107 more in the postseason for 2,212 yards.
Davis had 2,476 yards combined in the 1998 season.
But there would be little more from Davis. He suffered a torn ACL in the fourth game of the 1999 season while trying to make a tackle on an interception and his knee never came around.
From the time he became eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007, voters didn’t quite know how to consider his case. He made it to the round of 25 modern-era semifinalists for 10 consecutive seasons, but it wasn’t his eighth year of eligibility, in 2014, that he became a top 15 finalist.
He didn’t make it to the cut down of 10 finalists during the final vote in February, 2015, but he did in February, 2016 before Hall of Fame president Dave Baker knocked on his hotel door on February 5 of this year.
Finalists not elected to the Hall get a phone call. Finalists who were elected get a knock.
“The knock on the door was one I was surprised about,’’ Davis said. “I had prepared myself sort of both ways moreso if it didn’t happen. So when David Baker knocked on the door I was genuinely surprised at it. But I was happy.’’
T.D.’s career is no longer properly characterized as too short. It can now be described as long enough.