Jeff Pearlman

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Death of a USFL center

Davis, left, with President Gerald Ford

Davis, left, as an undergrad at Nebraska with President Gerald Ford

Tom Davis died a few days ago, and the world didn’t flinch.

Davis was a former Nebraska center who played three seasons with the Denver Gold of the USFL. Save this obit by Steven M. Sipple in the Lincoln Journal Star, I heard nothing of his passing. Which isn’t surprising—Davis, like the vast majority of professional football players, lived largely in the shadows. You’ll always have your Antonio Browns and Eli Mannings. But there are 50 other guys for every one shining star. The come, they play, they leave, they fold back into society. Especially if they’re named “Tom Davis.”

When I heard of the passing, I opened up my Tom Davis interview file from research for “Football for a Buck,” my USFL chronicling from last year. I remembered Davis was not in wonderful health when we spoke and, indeed, he died of causes related to dementia. Scanning through the transcript, two things stood out.

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• 1. When I asked Davis for his most memorable USFL moment, he offered these three gems …

A. “I cashed my weekly check and it bounced. And I went into the GM and said, ‘You have exactly 12 hours to give me a certified check or I go to the newspaper and have this printed, that your check to a player bounced.’  He said, ‘We changed banks, we’ve had a little trouble,’ but he gave me a certified check. That was weird.”

B. “The last game I ever played in professional football was against Memphis and Reggie White. And he just beat the shit out of me. He beat me like a red-headed stepchild. Oh, man—he just beat me to shit. I think he had three unassisted tackles, five assisted tackles, two sacks. He just killed me. It was the last game I ever played, and it was against Reggie. It wasn’t pretty.”

C. “The weirdest USFL moment for me was we were on out own two-yard line. I set up the huddle in the end zone, and I look up into the end zone seats and there’s a guy pissing his pants. He’s sitting spread out in a chair, and you can see the darkness coming down his legs. Jesus Christ, this guy is pissing his pants. That’s pretty stupid.”

• 2. Davis was the only player in Gold history to appear in all 54 regular season games. He told me a sports writer once called to tell him such, and his response was, “Really, who the fuck cares?”

Tom Davis wanted to organize a Gold reunion. He thought it’d be fun.

Alas, it never came to be.

RIP

Davis (52) is in the third row from top

Davis (52) is in the third row from top

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life