That crosswind you feel tickling your neck isn’t the shrill first breath of winter, it’s an exhale of exaltation from a man who was taken from his career depths up to a mile-high-and-beyond season of possibility. That man’s name is Vernon Davis.
As a former 49er faithful, I can’t wait for Vernon Davis to maul the Lombardi trophy with his paws and kisses in February. I want to see him doused in orange and blue confetti as he rocks with Peyton Manning back and forth on the dais beside a new Chevy truck nobody wants in some kind of end-of-career embrace/slow dance whose tune only they know.
I want to see VD get that ring.
And why shouldn’t I? To me, Vernon Davis personifies the ultimate journey of the modern athlete. From physical specimen who was too-imposing-to-be-a-sure-thing yet too tantalizing not to take, to problem child, to the ultimate teammate and community guy, to veteran stuck in the middle of the worst ownership/coaching/personnel situation since
Fiorina’s Whitman’s HP…to a man who’s now got a legitimate shot at the title and redemption in the autumnal moment of his career.
In the spring of 2006, Mike Nolan’s 4-12 49ers needed help at every skill position along with a complete body-off restoration of both lines. Instead, they opted for an art major from Maryland who also happened to be a Consensus All-American and an All-ACC first-team selection. His junior year, The Cyborg led the Terps with 51 receptions and 871 receiving yards, averaging more than 17 per catch. More importantly, he set team records for a TE in bench (480), cleans (380) and squat (685) making him the strongest motherfucker to matriculate from Under Armour U.
Vernon Davis was a pass-catching tight-end, which is the Porsche Panamera of players. Sure, it may be something you say you need, but in the end, you’re just putting an extra set of doors on a luxury item. The 49ers took him 6th overall in the 2006 draft and what followed was an odyssey of Joycean proportions. Injuries (a fractured tibia and a strained right knee) marred production his first two seasons. In October of his third campaign, when scribes started to affix the bust label on the beast, Davis slapped Seahawks safety Brian Russell in the facemask after catching a pass, resulting in a 15-yard penalty.
No-nonsense crazy-man HC Mike Singletary benched Davis, dressed him down on the sideline, then sent him to perma-time-out in the locker room. Post-game, Singletary went on to YouTube glory with “I want winners” screed. As if overnight, Vernon Davis became the prodigal son returned and finished the season with flash and class as one of the league’s breakthrough pass catchers.
The next year, Davis went to the Pro Bowl for the first of two times. The year after that, he was awarded a five-year contract extension for $37 million and finished the season as the linchpin of the 49ers passing attack, hauling in 56 catches for 914 yards
This brings us to 2011, where Davis really began to show his worth in the playoffs. He had seven receptions for 180 yards during the division round game against New Orleans—breaking Kellen Winslow’s record (166) for most in a playoff game. In the NFC Championship Game, he was all the 49ers offense (112 yards, two touchdowns) in a 20-17 overtime loss to the Giants. The year after that, Davis led the 49ers to Super Bowl XLVII where he grabbed six receptions for 104 yards in a losing effort that created the template for horrible red zone play calling Seattle would go on to emulate in 2015.
The Duke leaves the 49ers with 441 receptions for 5,640 yards and 55 touchdowns. Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said Davis will be featured in two-tight end sets, which Manning under center has embraced since the Clinton administration. In return for Davis, the 49ers got pair of consecutive sixth rounders in 2016 and 2017 which will summarily be used on a pair of wideouts who will both be cut from the practice squad sometime in the fall of 2018.
Off the field, Vernon Davis has been portrayed as a head case, a shit starter and a misanthrope. Perhaps at some moment he’s been all of these—like anyone would be after working for the same dysfunctional mom-and-pop shop for a decade. Or perhaps he tired of answering the same six versions of “Are you going to do more to prepare for next week?” from the same nine warmed-over LAP-BAND® pre-op Bay Area scribes who hide behind their recorders as they gurgle down orange chicken and black tray jumbo shrimp between statements-posing-as-questions like giant red-faced baby birds.
I, for one, wish that Davis had gotten a little more positive press.
In a franchise defined by entitled interloper owners who sold their team’s host city fanbase out to Goldman Sachs, serial drunken drivers, gun-wielding-at-party scofflaws and multiple girlfriend beaters—one needn’t look further than Davis’s foundation for the arts, his handing out superhero capes at El Camino Hospital, his recently shuttered art gallery or his time as captain of the US Olympic curling team to see that a complex man can rise from an organization occupied by feckless bad guys and joyless simpletons.