Bill Little commentary: Leonard Davis - Casting a large shadow
He seemed to be the biggest man we had ever seen. What we would soon learn was that he had a heart to match.
Jan. 31, 2013
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
If you have ever peered through special dark glasses and watched the eclipse of the sun, or watched from a prairie as the earth and its celestial satellite collaborated to create a lunar eclipse that disappeared the moon, then you will understand what I am about to tell you.
Because that is what happened in the doorway to the athletics' offices that day more than fifteen years ago when Leonard Davis walked into the life of Texas football. A giant of a man had just arrived as a brand-new Longhorn.
He seemed, for all practical purposes, the biggest man we had ever seen. He wore shoes the size of shoe boxes, and folks opined that his clothes were tailored by Omar the Tent Maker. What we would soon learn was that he had a heart to match.
An odyssey is often a strange journey, and on Leonard Davis' football odyssey, destiny has been a strange traveling companion.
When he came to Texas, with a 6-6 frame that now carries 353 (or more) pounds, the coaching staff in John Mackovic's final season tried him on defense. But by the time he was helping the Longhorns in the early years of the Mack Brown era, he had found a home on the offensive line. It was from that space that he would launch a career that would carry him through four different franchises in the NFL, eventually landing him on what would turn out to be a Super Bowl ride with the San Francisco 49ers.
He was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals as the second pick in the 2001 NFL draft. In 2007, he left Arizona (though he still maintains a home in Chandler) to join the NFL franchise in Dallas as a free agent. There, he spent four seasons as part of a Cowboys team that played some of its best football in over a decade. In Davis' first year with the team, the Cowboys finished 13-3 and won the NFC East but suffered a disappointing loss in the playoffs to the New York Giants. In 2009, the Cowboys again placed first in the division and won a post-season game for the first time in 13 seasons with a Wild Card victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Davis was an All-Pro in 2007 and played in three straight Pro Bowls, beginning with that season. His time with the Cowboys began with high hopes, but a long-term stay in Dallas wasn't meant to be. After the NFL lock-out in 2011, Leonard was released by Dallas as part of cost-cutting measures.
But it was during his time in Dallas that Davis formed lasting friendships with many teammates, even forming a heavy metal band with fellow offensive linemen Marc Colombo and Cory Procter. Davis plays bass in the group and along with a guitarist named Justin Chapman, their band "Free Reign" released a debut album in 2009 aptly named "Heavier than Metal."
"It is fun being in a band with teammates," Davis said earlier this year. "The camaraderie you have with football is very similar in the band."
In week nine of the 2011 season, he was picked up by Detroit, but despite being in good condition and his best efforts, he never played for the Lions. Then, just when it appeared his career was in serious jeopardy, he was signed this season by San Francisco. His role has been that of a back-up offensive lineman, and he has played in every game this season.
Where other players who had been at the highest level might have had difficulty checking their ego at the door, Leonard took on the challenge of presenting the other team's attack in practice, and has been used as an extra lineman in the 49ers jumbo run package.
"It feels like he's fit in, he's one of us. Another guy that's just a pure joy to be around,'' head coach Jim Harbaugh said early in the season. "Pure, pure athlete and good guy.''
"Leonard's been a great addition,'' Niners teammate Patrick Willis said. "He's a big guy, and we know he still has some oomph to him.''
So Davis has played eleven of his twelve years since he left Texas as a consensus all-American offensive tackle, and as his dark hair gently begins to fleck with gray, his career path in its twilight has led him to the biggest game in his sport.
"I always knew that as a player in this league you never knew what could happen," he told reporters on Media Day in New Orleans on Tuesday. "From the decisions that coaches make to decisions that players make, it's crazy. I always knew something could happen. It was never unexpected."
Destiny, we know, makes no promises. And that is why Leonard will cherish the moment in New Orleans.
Davis shares the San Francisco locker room with another Longhorn, cornerback Tarell Brown, and will be facing a Baltimore Ravens team that includes two other former UT players - rookie kicker Justin Tucker and defensive back Chykie Brown. Much has been made of the number of veterans on the Baltimore team, and at 34, Davis is one of the older players in the game.
As the 49ers posed for their team picture on Media Day, the folks in charge of the risers used for the picture wisely placed Big Leonard on the front row, standing on the field of the Superdome. He was almost right next to his head coach, Jim Harbaugh. It was solid ground, for a solidly grounded human being.
For Leonard Davis, there are three reflections that truly show how "big" he really is, and they have nothing to do with a size 17 or larger shoe. One, quite naturally is his size. The others are his heart, and his smile - and not necessarily in that order.
Because, you see, Leonard Davis laughs from the heart. And it comes out through his eyes.