The most compelling reason – perhaps the sole one – to like the Carolina Panthers left Sunday’s NFC Championship game in the second quarter, holding his right arm.
Linebacker Thomas Davis does not leave a game unless something is torn or broken. The former Bulldog became the beating heart of the Panthers defense precisely because of his unyielding determination to be on that field. Coming back from three ligament surgeries on the same knee underscored that point in scar tissue.
Even as Carolina played it coy with the extent of the injury Sunday, anyone who knew Davis didn’t have to possess a medical degree to know that the arm was broken. Nothing less than a fracture could have tied him to the sidelines.
Davis is the most tenured of the Panthers, in his 11th year after leaving Georgia following his junior season in 2004 for the first round of the NFL draft.
On a team of preening peacocks, where the quarterback has more ham in him than a Publix deli counter and where players pose for group photos while the game is still ongoing, Davis was the weighty counterbalance. And now that his chance to finish out an All Pro season at the Super Bowl is in doubt, what other reason is there to cheer for the Panthers?
At Georgia, Davis won the team’s Iron Man Award for his attitude and work habits. When the former safety returned six years into his NFL career to get his degree and walk at commencement in Athens, Mark Richt said, “He’s one of the greatest kids who ever came through here and one of the finest players who every came through here.”
Last year he was the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year for all his charitable work, which has included numerous child-oriented efforts such as building a playground for his tiny southwest Georgia town of Shellman.
How unfair is this game that a man such as this, who has turned rehab into a second career, might be denied a chance to show himself on the stage of Super Bowl 50? No one has more dearly earned a place in that circus of excess.
Davis held out hope that he would be back in two weeks for the game. “I believe in our training staff and I believe in the process. If it is at all possible I know they are going to get me back and I will do my part to make sure I'm ready,” he told reporters after Sunday’s victory over Arizona. You wouldn’t expect him to say anything less.
The man can heal, he has proven that. To be effective against Denver in two short weeks, however, may require intervention bordering on the divine.
It just would be all kinds of wrong for Carolina to make it to the biggest game without its most sterling player.