A Carolina Christmas Story: ‘Why Not Try?’
After tearing his ACL three times in three years, Thomas Davis fought back. The Panthers linebacker now is having his finest season as a pro, but his greatest achievement doesn't have anything to do with football. Plus, a reader mailbag
We’ll see about Tony Romo’s availability Sunday night, though I’m trusting Adam Schefter saying he’s out and facing surgery on a herniated disk, despite Jerry Jones assertion to the Dallas Morning News Monday night that, “There is nothing structurally that will rule him out if he feels good and is cleared to play—nothing.” Two things: You’ve got to hand it to Romo for playing with a back problem for some or most of Sunday’s game, and for leading Dallas from a nine-point deficit with eight minutes to play to the win at Washington. And this is why they paid Kyle Orton like a borderline starter before the 2012 season. I thought Philadelphia would win Sunday’s game before the injury anyway, but this just puts an exclamation point on it.
Every year, I am asked to vote in the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year balloting. Each team nominates one player, and the bios of 32 players are sent out (with what a player does off the field as important as, or moreso than, what he does on the field), and I digest the information and vote for my top three. Each year, this gives me a chance to see some of the good people in the league and the good deeds they do.
This year was a strong year for the men of the year. I decided that, in this Christmas Week, I would take a column and write about one of the players who impressed me this season, and let him represent the good guys in the NFL who do a lot and don’t get noticed very much for it. I spoke with Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis last week, and he’s got quite a story to tell.
Davis, from the small town of Shellman, Ga., was a first-round pick of the Panthers in 2005. He was having a good but not spectacular career when, midway through the 2009, he tore his ACL in his right knee playing for the Panthers. The following June, working out in the Panthers’ off-season program, he re-tore the ligament, a devastating blow. But that gave him all of the 2010 to rehab the injury, and the knee felt strong entering the 2011 season. In his second game that season, against Green Bay, he tore it for a third time.
Last season, Davis played well—and didn’t aggravate the knee. This year, through 15 games, he’s having the best year of his pro life. His 117 tackles, four sacks and eight passes defensed are career bests, and his athletic, leaping interception of a Drew Brees pass while dropping into coverage was a huge play in Carolina’s NFC South-changing victory Sunday.
“After my third time (tearing the ACL),’’ Davis said, “I just figured that day, ‘I put up a good fight. It’s over.’ But when I went home that night my wife asked me if, in my heart, I thought I was done with the game. And I just figured I had to have surgery regardless. Why not try?’’
That’s the way Davis lives his life. In his words, what he’s doing with his Thomas Davis Defending Dreams Foundation, and why he’s made it a part of his every-day life:
“It was never about starting a foundation and letting somebody else run it. It was about being involved with something I believed in, and touching as many lives as I can. I call it the Defending Dreams Foundations because these kids have dreams and aspirations, as I did. But so many of them, like me, financially can’t get things done. I was that way, growing up in a small city of 900 or 1,000, Shellman, Ga. Kids there don’t have much. They don’t feel they can achieve their dreams. The poverty level is high there. My mom struggled. She was a single parent. We’d have Christmas without getting a gift. It was tough. That’s one of the things we do—we get gifts for at least 300 kids now. In Charlotte, as soon as I leave practice today, I go out and purchase all of the gifts with my board members, and we put them in a U-Haul, 5 board members, and try to help those kids. We do it for the kids in Shellman too. I couldn’t go this year but my wife, who is the executive director of the foundation, drove there and helped four or five families in dire need.
“Every summer we do a book bag giveaway … 300 kids. We go out and buy the book bags and all the supplies: pencils, rulers, papers, crayons, all the school supplies you can think of, and we put them together in my living room. At Thanksgiving, we took the 160 women at the Salvation Army Center of Hope, rented a bus, and took them in two shifts to a restaurant that closed down so we could give them a real Thanksgiving dinner. We take them out of their circumstances for a few hours and try to put smiles on their faces. All they are thinking is enjoying a real meal at a restaurant and getting out of their circumstances for a few hours. It is so good to see.
“What am I proud of? … Well, Shellman, Ga., never had a playground when I lived there. Not even a simple, tiny playground. That really was disappointing to me. So we decided to go back and put in a huge playground—swings, slides, monkey bars, grills—and the city put in a drinking fountain. So now they have somewhere the kids can go and play. The city is divided by railroad tracks, and I think the playground, which is used by all kids, has helped bring some parts of that city together. Driving by, I get so excited for the kids, having something I never had.
“I do things like that because I love to see kids have smiles on their faces. As a young kid, I knew my circumstances, I didn’t have the opportunity. I know as a leader of the community, I can give back. I want to be part of the solution.”
Now for your email, which was heavy on another Panther: