Denver Broncos fans will always associate Terrell Davis with his signature “Mile-High Salute.”
The gesture was Davis’ touchdown celebration during his legendary seven-year NFL career.
He went on to earn three Pro Bowl nods as well as Super Bowl XXXII MVP and 1998 NFL MVP honors.
Davis also holds at least forty-six Broncos franchise records.
Not bad for an unheralded sixth-round pick out of Georgia.
Surprisingly, Davis wouldn’t have gotten that far had he quit football just before his rookie season in 1995.
He has also been dealing with migraine headaches since he was just nine years old.
Make no mistake about it: Terrell Davis is the true epitome of resilience on and off the gridiron.
Terrell Lamar Davis was born to parents Joe and Kateree in San Diego, CA on October 28, 1972.
Terrell was the sixth of eight children in the Davis household.
They named him after the R&B singer Tammi Terrell.
Joe Davis was an alcoholic and drug addict who had been in and out of a Missouri prison. He worked several jobs, but he was mainly a welder, per SI.com’s Leigh Montville.
Terrell and his siblings called him “Diddy,” which he resented. He wanted them to call him “Joe.”
Joe would toughen up his sons while they were growing up. He wrestled and slapped them, taught them how to load guns, and also showed them how to use pocket knives correctly.
He did something unthinkable in the fall of 1981.
Joe woke up his four youngest boys from a sound sleep and made them stand side by side, leaning against a wall. He fired his .38 pistol just above each boy’s head to see how tough they were.
The boys were shaking when Joe left the room.
Terrell was the lone exception.
“I wasn’t scared,” he told Montville seventeen years after the incident. “I knew he wasn’t going to kill us. He wouldn’t do that. He loved us too much.”
He also displayed a lighter side, too: he went to the boys’ sporting events, cracked jokes, and sang along while Al Green or The Temptations were blaring on the radio.
Joe Davis was one unpredictable man.
On the other hand, Kateree was a nurse who gave birth to Terrell when she was twenty-three years old.
Even though Kateree worked double shifts, she still found time to cook, do the laundry, and manage the household. Joe took care of the kids in the evening.
When the couple separated in 1980, Terrell and his three brothers Reggie, Bobby, and Terry lived with Joe because his house was closer to their school. They stayed with Kateree on weekends.
The separation went on for one-and-a-half years.
Forty-two-year-old Joe Davis passed away due to lupus in 1987. Terrell was barely fifteen years old.
He began experiencing migraine headaches six years earlier.
However, he didn’t let that deter him from making an impact on the gridiron.
Davis initially attended Morse High School in his hometown of San Diego.
Terrell, whom his Pop Warner coaches nicknamed “Boss Hogg,” struggled in school.
“I was just disobedient,” he told SI.com. “My teachers couldn’t stand me. I can’t blame them.”
While Terrell wasn’t part of any gang, he hung around with guys who were. Drug dealing and shootings were everyday occurrences in his neighborhood.
Terrell eventually transferred to Lincoln High School as his sophomore year wound down.
It was one of the best decisions he made in his young life.
Terrell Davis hung out frequently with his best friend Jamaul Pennington. They encouraged each other and even planned to start a business – perhaps a nightclub – someday, per Montville.
Terrell kept his nose to the grindstone – he took summer classes to atone for his poor grades at Morse and went out for football.
Terrell Davis…Lincoln High School. Go Hornets! #PFHOF2017 pic.twitter.com/EvwzaTWQtX
— Tawnya Shaw (@LadyTshaw3) August 6, 2017
Davis suited up for the Lincoln Hornets as a noseguard and kicker. Since Jamaul was undersized for football, he videotaped Terrell’s games from the stands.
Terrell, who was also on the track team, broke the discus throw school record. He also participated in wrestling.
Davis eventually found his niche as a running back during his senior year at Lincoln High.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t getting any college scholarships.
It turned out his half-brother Reggie – who was his mother’s son with Ike Webb, a man she had a relationship with while Joe was incarcerated – became his saving grace.
Reggie overheard his coaches at Long Beach State talking about his brother in their office one day.
The coaches recruited Terrell and offered him a scholarship.
Terrell Davis was about to take a major step in his remarkable journey on the gridiron.
College Days With The Long Beach State 49ers And Georgia Bulldogs
Terrell Davis redshirted his true freshman year at Long Beach State.
Back then, former Washington Redskins head coach George Allen was the Long Beach State 49er’s mentor.
The 49ers won six of eleven games in the 1990 NCAA season.
After Allen passed away on New Year’s Eve, Hall-of-Fame Oakland Raiders cornerback Willie Brown took over the reins at Long Beach State.
Under Brown’s leadership, Terrell and Reggie played in the same backfield.
Terrell ran for 262 yards and two touchdowns in five games. He also caught for one touchdown pass.
The 49ers were bad in 1991. They won just two of their eleven games.
It was a sad end to Long Beach State 49ers football. The university decided to eliminate the program due to budget constraints at the end of the 1991 season.
Pro Football Hall of Famer Terrell Davis returns to Long Beach State tonight.
He will be in attendance for the LBSU men's basketball game against Cal Poly.@Terrell_Davis was a member of the Long Beach State football team in 1991. The last year football was offered on campus. pic.twitter.com/rOZBJrlAx4
— James H. Williams on UCLA football (@JHWreporter) February 11, 2018
The turn of events left Terrell Davis in limbo.
According to Montville, Terrell thought he would become a UCLA Bruin.
However, a recruiting trip to the University of Georgia changed all that.
Terrell Davis became enamored with the campus.
He majored in consumer economics and committed to the Georgia Bulldogs in time for the 1992 NCAA season.
Davis suited up in 10 games mainly as a backup to future Arizona Cardinals running back Garrison Hearst that year.
Davis ran for 388 yards and three touchdowns on 53 carries.
The Bulldogs won an impressive ten of twelve games in the 1992 NCAA campaign.
Eighth-ranked Georgia beat the 15th-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes in the 1993 Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day, 21-14.
After Hearst graduated, Davis became Bulldogs head football coach Ray Goff’s top running back for the 1993 NCAA season.
Davis split carries with Kregg Lumpkin and Thomas Brown over the next two seasons.
Davis enjoyed his best season at Georgia with 824 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 167 carries. He also caught three touchdowns for good measure.
Unfortunately, the Bulldogs won just five games and bowed out of bowl contention in 1993.
"I didn't know what big-time football looked like, until I got to Georgia."#DGD @Terrell_Davis talked about his time in Athens, and how proud he is to be a part of #RBU, all on Bulldogs Game Day at 10!
📺: TODAY at 10am on @wsbtv! #GoDawgs pic.twitter.com/KyPrEISLaa
— Bulldogs Game Day (@WSBbulldogs) February 2, 2019
Davis’ lowest moment at Georgia came during his senior year in 1994.
His best friend Jamaul Pennington returned home to San Diego after four years in the Navy. Davis reached out to him and asked if he could stay with him in Athens for his final year on the college gridiron. Pennington politely declined the offer.
Regrettably, Pennington was shot dead after he got into an argument over gambling in San Diego.
Davis flew to the West Coast for the funeral.
To make matters worse, Davis aggravated his hamstring tear during the Bulldogs’ 41-23 loss to the 19th-ranked Tennessee Volunteers on September 10, 1994.
The injury forced Davis to sit out Georgia’s next three games.
When Davis was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017, he admitted to DawgSports.com’s Chip Towers he and Goff “didn’t see eye-to-eye” back then.
The tension between the two men stemmed from Goff’s apparent mishandling of Davis’ injury: he apparently believed it wasn’t that serious.
Davis told DawgSports.com the coaching staff made game-day decisions on his situation after they consulted their trainers.
Davis and Goff have buried the hatchet over the years. The former thinks highly of his head coach these days, per Towers:
“I think of Ray a lot. I get emotional thinking about him right now. I learned a lot from him. A lot of times you don’t realize the effect somebody is having on you until years later. You kind of missed the message.”
Davis returned from his injury and went on to run for 445 yards on 87 carries.
He finished the 1994 NCAA season strong with 113 yards against the Auburn Tigers and 121 yards against the Georgia Tech Yellowjackets.
Davis decided to forego his senior year in Athens and declare for the 1995 NFL Draft.
Dating back to his redshirt freshman season at Long Beach State, Terrell Davis rushed for 1,919 yards and 16 touchdowns on 372 carries in his college football career.
While Davis didn’t mesmerize scouts during his college football career, his modest stat line would inevitably lead him to the perfect landing spot in the National Football League.
Pro Football Career
The Denver Broncos were one step closer to winning their first Super Bowl title in the 1991 NFL season.
Unfortunately, they lost to Jim Kelly’s Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship Game, 10-7.
Ninth-year quarterback John Elway missed another opportunity to earn his first Super Bowl ring.
The Broncos were a mediocre bunch in the next three seasons – they averaged eight wins per year and were nowhere near the level of a championship-caliber squad.
That would all change when Terrell Davis came on board.
Denver won just seven games in 1994. One of the Broncos’ Achilles’ heels was their moribund rushing offense – their 1,470 rushing yards ranked them 23rd in the NFL that year.
Davis will help plug that gaping hole in the Mile High City.
The Broncos selected Davis in the sixth round – 196th overall – of the 1995 NFL Draft.
Twenty-two years later, Davis told DawgSports.com he was thankful the Broncos drafted him:
“If I’d have gone out and had a 1,500-yard season or something like that, I may have gotten drafted by the Cleveland Browns or something.”
“Instead I ended up in Denver, which was the perfect place for me.”
Ray Goff, his head football coach with the Georgia Bulldogs, concurred.
Goff told Towers that Davis “ended up in the perfect place at the perfect time.” He also said had the Bulldogs coaching staff ran Davis the way they ran Garrison Hearst, the latter “would have been worn out” by the time he made it to the NFL.
It was a great start to Davis’ stint in the National Football League.
However, Davis’ pro football career almost ended as soon as it began several months later.
Davis, who reported to training camp as the Broncos’ sixth-string tailback, became distraught when first-year head coach Mike Shanahan didn’t give him ample playing time during the preseason.
Davis’ boiling point came when the Broncos traveled to Japan for their second preseason game – a matchup against the San Francisco 49ers.
Davis admitted to CNBC’s “The Profit” host Marcus Lemonis on Instagram Live in May 2020 he almost quit at that point in his young NFL career.
“I just felt like it wasn’t for me,” Davis told Lemonis. “They had faster guys who were better than me at the time, and I got a little discouraged, so I wanted to quit.”
Fortunately, the language barrier between Davis and his Japanese hotel concierge made him change his mind.
Neither party could understand each other, so Davis couldn’t arrange a flight out of Japan.
Terrell Davis is in the Hall Of Fame because of Special Teams.
That was his way on the field as a rookie.
He took advantage of this opportunity to become a Super Bowl Champion & legendary RB.
Everyone’s journey to success starts somewhere. Find your opportunity. This was his. pic.twitter.com/pxctYSGt3z
— Matt Drinkall (@DrinkallCoach) June 17, 2019
Davis wound up making a career-saving tackle on a special teams play against the 49ers.
That play encouraged Shanahan and Co. to give Davis more playing time.
For his part, Davis told Lemonis the play “changed (the) entire trajectory of my career.”
Not only that, but Terrell Davis would also play a pivotal role in the Denver Broncos’ back-to-back Super Bowl titles several years later.
Davis eventually started 14 games as a rookie and racked up 1,117 yards and seven touchdowns on 237 carries.
He recorded the first 100-yard rushing game of his career in the Broncos’ 38-6 rout of the Arizona Cardinals in Week 10.
Davis ran for 135 yards on 22 carries in the win.
Two weeks later, he ran for a season-high 176 yards and a touchdown in Denver’s 30-27 victory over his hometown San Diego Chargers.
Terrell Davis, the sixth-round draft choice out of Georgia, was proving to the Broncos his selection was no fluke.
Denver was still mired in mediocrity in Davis’ rookie season – the Broncos won eight games and missed the postseason for the third time in the past four years.
The next three seasons were the most glorious in Terrell Davis’ career in the National Football League.
Davis ran for 1,538 yards and almost doubled his rookie touchdown production with 13 scores in 1996.
His best game of the year was his 194-yard, two-touchdown effort in a 45-34 win over the visiting Baltimore Ravens on November 5, 1996.
Behind Davis’ exploits at running back, Denver won 13 games that year.
It was the most the Broncos had won since 1984 – Elway’s second year in the pro ranks.
Unfortunately, the upstart Jacksonville Jaguars squashed Denver’s Super Bowl aspirations with a narrow 30-27 win in the AFC Divisional Round.
Davis ran for 91 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries in his first postseason game.
Despite the bitter defeat, Davis earned his first NFL Offensive Player of the Year award.
He also became a First-Team All-Pro member and made the first of his three consecutive Pro Bowl appearances.
Nobody did it like T.D. @Terrell_Davis | @nflthrowback pic.twitter.com/5y6OPsib0x
— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) October 28, 2020
The 1997 edition of the Denver Broncos featured Elway, Davis, wide receiver Rod Smith, tight end Shannon Sharpe, cornerback Ray Crockett, linebacker Bill Romanowski, and defensive ends Alfred Williams and Neil Smith.
That core group helped the Broncos win twelve games in the 1997 NFL campaign.
Davis continued his tear, amassing 1,750 yards and an NFL-best 15 rushing touchdowns on 369 carries that year.
This time around, Davis and Co. were not about to be denied in the postseason.
Davis never rushed for fewer than 101 yards in Denver’s four postseason games.
He stormed out of the gates with 184 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the Broncos’ 42-17 rout of the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Wild Card round.
It was sweet vindication for the Broncos – the Jaguars ended their title quest in the previous year’s Divisional Round matchup.
Denver went on to beat the Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers in the next two games by an average of 3.5 points.
Davis rushed for a combined 240 yards and three touchdowns in the two wins.
The Broncos squared off against the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII.
It was an elite matchup that featured John Elway against Brett Favre.
The Broncos prevailed, 31-24.
Terrell Davis was the runaway choice for Super Bowl XXXII MVP with 157 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries.
His one-yard run with 1:45 left on the game clock sealed the Broncos’ first Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Three touchdowns.#SuperBowl MVP@Terrell_Davis recounts his epic performance in Super Bowl XXXII 👇 pic.twitter.com/f1eakt3Ld2
— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) January 30, 2019
Ironically, Davis dealt with a migraine after the Packers’ Santana Dotson and Eugene Robinson converged on him and hit him on the head in the first quarter.
It got so bad that Davis actually lost his vision after the hit.
He received dihydroergotamine nasal spray treatment from the Broncos’ trainers that stopped the migraine.
Davis racked up 93 more yards in the second half.
He also piled up more accolades at season’s end: he earned his second straight Pro Bowl berth and another First-Team All-Pro nomination.
Behind Davis’ career-high 2,008 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns, the Broncos won a franchise record 14 games in the 1998 NFL season.
To nobody’s surprise, Terrell Davis earned 1998 NFL MVP honors.
The Associated Press also named him NFL Offensive Player of the Year for a second time in his career. Davis also earned his third straight Pro Bowl nod and First-Team All-Pro selection.
Davis ran for at least 102 yards in the Broncos’ three postseason games in the 1998 NFL campaign.
After dismantling the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets by a combined 48 points, the Broncos went up against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII.
Super Bowl XXXIII MVP John Elway’s 336 passing yards and one touchdown helped carry the Broncos to their second consecutive title with a 34-19 win over Atlanta.
Terrell Davis ran for 102 yards on 25 carries in the win.
“The sense in that locker room was that we did not want to see the Vikings.”
Hall of famer @Terrell_Davis explained to @ryenarussillo how the 1998 Broncos wanted no part of the Vikings in Super Bowl XXXIII on the latest #RussilloPod pic.twitter.com/MQjMS20yjA
— The Ringer (@ringer) November 28, 2021
Davis reached an unprecedented high in his NFL career. Unfortunately, he would never be the same again in his final three seasons.
Davis endured ACL, MCL, and stress reaction injuries that limited him to a combined nine appearances in 1999 and 2000.
He underwent arthroscopic knee surgery that forced him to sit out half of the 2001 NFL season.
Davis ran for a combined 1,194 yards and four touchdowns in his three final injury-plagued seasons.
The Broncos won an average of eight games during that span.
Terrell Davis announced his retirement from the NFL during a preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers – the same team the Broncos’ played seven years earlier when he was on the verge of quitting – on October 20, 2002.
He requested the Broncos to place him on their season-ending injured reserve list.
Davis was just eight days shy of his 30th birthday.
“I have mixed feelings,” Davis told The Associated Press’ John Mossman (via USA TODAY). “My mind tells me one thing, my knees say something else.”
Terrell Davis finished his legendary NFL career with 7.607 rushing yards and 60 touchdowns on 1,655 carries.
Davis holds at least forty-six Broncos team records, including total touchdowns in a season (23), rushing yards in the postseason (1,140), and career rushing attempts (1,655).
Terrell Davis, his wife Tamiko Nash, their sons Jackson and Myles, and daughter Dylan currently reside in Temecula, CA.
Davis became a member of the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame in 2004.
He was inducted into the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame on September 23, 2007.
Davis is a member of the NFL’s 1990s All-Decade Team.
He and John Elway served as the Denver Broncos’ honorary captains at Super Bowl 50 in February 2016.
Terrell Davis was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on August 5, 2017.
Part of his enshrinement speech reads:
“I’ve also learned that everything in life has a price. The question is: what price are you willing to pay? The price to quit on our dreams or the price to do whatever it takes to fulfill our vision?”
Davis said during his enshrinement ceremony in Canton his signature “Mile-High Salute” – his post-touchdown celebration – was a “sign of respect” to the men and women of the military and his teammates.
From all of your Pro Football Hall of Fame friends, a Mile High Salute to you @Terrell_Davis #FamousAmongFriends pic.twitter.com/BwlIFgVi5l
— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) August 5, 2017
Terrell Davis has made several television appearances over the years. He has appeared in Sesame Street, Disney Channel’s “The Jersey,” and Sister, Sister.
Davis also appeared on the cover of the video game NFL GameDay 99. He was also featured in another sports video game, NFL Madden 2006.
He co-wrote a book entitled “TD: Dreams in Motion” with current ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter in August 1998.
Terrell Davis also worked as a studio host for NFL Total Access in his post-retirement years.
Davis is the co-founder of DEFY, a high-quality performance spectrum CBD supplement company.
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