The first defensive lineman to combine size with devastating speed, Willie Davis made his mark as a stalwart on the dominant Packers’ teams of the 1960s.
Willie, who grew up in rural Louisiana and graduated from Grambling University, had a hard time getting his professional career started. A two-year stint in the Army and the Cleveland Browns’ indecision on where to best utilize Willie’s vast talents were the main culprits. A trade in 1960 to the Green Bay Packers, then considered to be the Siberia of pro sports, did little to inspire Davis. In fact, he briefly considered quitting.
Vince Lombardi, however, had different plans. He recognized immediately that Davis’ cat-like speed and agility would be best utilized as a defensive lineman. Thus began one of the greatest careers ever at that position.
Five straight Pro Bowl years, 21 fumble recoveries, 162 straight games played, and 5 NFL championships are testaments to Davis’ dominance. Willie, however, was ever-cognizant of the fleeting nature of a professional football career. That is why he earned his Masters in business from the University of Chicago and entered a major company’s management training program, all before his playing days were over.
In the early 1970s, Davis worked as a color commentator on NFL telecasts for NBC. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1981. In 1986, Davis was named the Walter Camp Man of the Year. In 1987, he was given the Career Achievement Award from the NFL Alumni, and in 1988 he was elected to the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame in 1988. In 1999, he was ranked number 69 on The Sporting News’ list of the 100 Greatest Football Players.
Willie felt it was important for kids to “remember me as a player who moved on to success off the field.” As a role model, Willie Davis set an example for all children to emulate. As a player, he did the same for defensive lineman.