NFL Hall of Famer’s career almost ended before it started because he didn’t speak Japanese

Terrell Davis.

Ron Schwane/AP

Terrell Davis had a 2,000-yard season and won two Super Bowl rings in his Hall of Fame career.
Davis tried to quit during the preseason before his rookie year, but he didn’t speak Japanese.
He then made an unexpected tackle on special teams that caught the eyes of the coaches.
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Former Denver Broncos running back Terrell Davis had a 2,000-yard season and won two Super Bowl rings in his Hall of Fame career.

It almost never happened.

Davis was a guest on ESPN’s “Golic & Wingo” when he told the crazy story about how he tried to quit the NFL during the preseason before his rookie year. instead, his efforts were thwarted by a Japanese hotel concierge who didn’t speak English and an unexpected tackle he made on special teams.

In 1995, Davis was a little-known, sixth-round, rookie running back out of the University of Georgia. As he tells the story, training camp and preseason were not going well, and he wanted to quit during the Broncos’ trip to Tokyo for their second preseason game.

“That week, I had a horrible week of practice, and I wanted to go home,” Davis said. “I was a sixth-round draft pick. I was getting no burn at running back. No reps whatsoever, and so I decided to go home.”

Terrell Davis.

Getty Images

According to Davis, he went back to the hotel one day after practice — in the time before the internet and smartphones — and called the front desk to book a flight back to Denver. Fortunately for Davis, there was a significant language barrier.

“I called down to the front desk, and I was asking if they could get me a flight to Denver, back to the United States. She didn’t understand me, and I didn’t understand what she was saying. My Japanese wasn’t great. Let me just put it that way. Instead of booking that flight — remember, there was no Travelocity, Expedia; you couldn’t go on your iPhone and book a flight — I said, ‘You know, I’ll just tough it out. When I get back home, and then I’ll quit.’ That was my plan. So, I had already mentally tapped out of playing because I figured I was just there as camp meat.”

Instead of returning to Denver early, Davis went to the game and dressed, fully expecting not to play. He even ate a bunch of hot dogs before the game. But then the special teams coach told Davis to go in with the kickoff unit, which saved his career.

“I go out on kickoff coverage, and I make a huge hit, and that was the hit that got me noticed by the coaches,” Davis said. “They allowed me to play a few snaps [on offense]. I had about eight carries and 40 yards. And the rest, as they say, is history. The other thing is I was eating hot dogs before I got in there, so I threw up all the hot dogs after I went back to the sideline.”


The rest is history, indeed.

This story was originally published in 2020 and has been updated.

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