Terrell Davis: Hall of Famer?

Scott GollContributor IDecember 31, 2008

Terrell Davis' last game in the NFL was in 2001, after which he walked away from a game he dominated. It was a brilliant but abbreviated career cut short by injury. The question bears asking once again:  Is T.D. a Hall of Famer?

The Broncos' all-time leading rusher is one of 25 semifinalists up for induction next year, with the ballot to be whittled down to 15 early in January.  Inductees will be chosen on Jan. 31, with four to seven new members permissible under the rules.

There's a lot of beef to this list of semifinalists. In my estimation, the most likely players to make it are:

  1. Bruce Smith
  2. Shannon Sharpe
  3. Cris Carter
  4. Andre Reed
  5. Rod Woodson

There could be others, but these are five high-profile, deserving candidates.

Why should Davis be on this list? Simply put, he was the most dominating running back of his era. Of the current modern era Hall of Fame running backs, only the great Eric Dickerson and Earl Campbell had more rushing yards in their first four seasons.

Davis amassed a staggering 6,413 yards, 56 touchdowns, and a 4.8 yards-per-carry average in that span. He ran for 1,117 yards in just 14 games as a rookie sixth round pick, and fared better each of the next three years.

After bettering 1,500 yards in 1996, he raised the bar again by leading the Broncos to their first Super Bowl victory in 1997.  Davis was the Super Bowl MVP, rushing for 157 yards and three touchdowns.  This, on the heels of a superb 1,750-yard season with 15 scores.

Not only was Davis a premier rusher, he was also a skilled receiver out of the backfield. He had 127 catches over those first three seasons for nearly 1,000 yards total.

His receiving numbers went down markedly in 1998 though. That's because he was busy becoming only the third running back in NFL history at the time to eclipse the 2,000 yard mark.

Davis' 2,008 yards gave him his third consecutive AFC rushing title, the NFL title, and the AP's Offensive Player of the Year award. He scored a staggering 21 touchdowns.  For good measure, he ran for 102 yards and gained 51 yards in pass receptions as the Broncos secured back-to-back Super Bowl wins.

Unfortunately for Davis and for Denver, injuries befell him repeatedly, limiting him to just nine games over the next two seasons. In 1999 he tore his ACL and MCL versus the Jets. In 2000, another injury set him back most of the year.

2001, his final season in the NFL, was another injury-marred campaign, though Davis showed the skill had not faded. In just eight games, he ran for 701 yards with 4.2 yards-per-carry.

In the end, he needed arthroscopic surgery on both knees, and was never able to make a comeback.  There was talk of Davis having microfracture surgery and an eventual return to the NFL, but it never materialized.

Making the Hall of Fame should signify a career in which the player was dominant and the best of his era.  It is clear that Davis was one of these rare players.

More ammunition for the Davis argument can be found here.

Davis put together seven seasons with 7,600+ yards, and that includes two seasons in which he combined for less than 500 due to injury.  His career 4.6 yards-per-carry is among the best rankings in NFL history. 

While I certainly understand the arguments that Davis would be more easily inducted with a longer body of work, such as 10,000 yards, etc., it is unquestionable that he would have reached every requirement possible. Without injury, Davis would likely have reached 10,000 yards before the age of 30.

Nevertheless, we're looking at a two-time champion, a Super Bowl MVP, a man who led his league in rushing, who set records and matched records held by the immortals of the game. T.D. was no fluke.

It is not unprecedented in sports to enshrine those who walked away from the game early or who did not play for 15 years. Campbell and Jim Brown each dominated the sport and played less than 10 years.

Sandy Koufax's 10-year career, with just 165 wins, did not prevent him from making baseball's Hall of Fame—his sport recognized his dominance.

Valid arguments can be made against Davis getting the call, and perhaps this is not his year, given the caliber of players eligible.

Let's not forget about T.D. though, folks. There were few who were ever better than him.

The numbers don't lie, and neither does the video.


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