It was never just about football for Willie Davis.
Though, of course, the linemen they called “Thumper” at Grambling was remarkably talented on the field.
A two-time black college All-America defensive tackle in 1954-55, Davis anchored the program’s first national black college championship team — the 10-0 squad from 1955.
“Willie had hitting power,” the late Grambling coach Eddie Robinson once recalled. “He was our captain, an outstanding leader.”
Davis went on to become the first GSU product to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. A stalwart presence on the Vince Lombardi-era Green Bay Packers, Davis helped the 1960s-era’s most dominant team to five NFL championships and six divisional titles in eight seasons.
Davis often credits Eddie Robinson for helping him understand the character needed to succeed — on the field and off: “Whether Eddie was coming through the dormitory checking on your work habits or getting athletes out to class, this thing was extremely important to him,” Davis said. “He was always someone you could go to to discuss a personal problem and come away with the feeling you’d been with someone who showed sensitivity and understanding.”
An All-NFL selection five times in the six years from 1962-67 for Green Bay, he was selected to play in five consecutive Pro Bowls. Davis had also had 4-1/2 sacks in the NFL’s first two Super Bowls, but because the league didn’t officially begin recording that stat until the Super Bowl XVII season, Davis’ feat goes unrecorded.
“Willie Davis was a great football player,” Robinson said. “Nobody knew the game better than Lombardi, and he talked about (Davis’) amazing feet, his intelligence, and his ability to deliver a blow. That underlined my experience with Willie.”
Perhaps his most impressive statistic is this: Davis didn’t miss a contest in his 12-year, 162-game pro career. The Sporting News placed him at No. 69 in its list of the Football’s 100 Greatest Players Ever. He was GSU’s second SWAC Hall of Famer in 1977, and was inducted into GSU hall in ’82.
But Davis always had other aspirations, often saying that he wanted people to “remember me as a player who moved on to success off the field.”
He would use a University of Chicago MBA to launch a second career. Davis would become chief executive of five radio stations — and has served on as many as 10 corporate boards of directors, including Sara Lee, Dow Chemical and Metro-Goldwyn Mayer.
“I guess it’s a lot of stuff,” Davis said. “But I certainly don’t have any specific day in mind for when I’ll retire. At the moment I’m not having fun, I’ll step back. But right now, I feel blessed and I’m enjoying myself.”
GET IN THE GAME:
For more on the Grambling Legends’ Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, to be held July 18 at the Civic Center in Monroe, visit http://www.gramlingsportshof.com.