Vernon Davis had a career that can certainly be defined as unique. One of the highest-touted rookie tight ends in NFL history, Davis more than lived up to the hype during his 14-year NFL career.
The sixth-overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, Davis was one of the 49ers‘ core players who revived the franchise following several down years. In 2012, Davis and his teammates captured the franchise’s fifth NFC title and first in 18 years. The following season, Davis earned Pro Bowl honors for the second time while helping the 49ers reach the NFC Championship Game for a third consecutive year.
Davis’ career then took him to Denver, where he won his elusive Super Bowl ring while helping Peyton Manning cap off his career as a world champion. Davis’ final act took place in Washington, where he enjoyed several more productive seasons before retiring after the 2019 season.
Davis recently spoke with CBS Sports on a variety of topics, including his career with the 49ers, his experience playing with both Manning and Colin Kaepernick, and what advice he would give to Kyle Pitts, the Atlanta Falcons‘ young star who last spring became the highest-drafted tight end in league history. Davis also spoke about hosting the 2022 USA Today High School Sports Awards (which will air on July 31 at 8 p.m. ET) with fellow former NFL tight end Rob Gronkowski.
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The 49ers’ current quarterback situation is somewhat similar to what you guys went through in 2012, when Colin Kaepernick was given the keys to the offense after Alex Smith went down with an injury during the year. Was Kaepernick’s instant success a surprise to you and your teammates?
“We all knew how talented Colin was. … We saw him in practice, so we knew once he got in, he was going to deliver, and he did. So it was amazing to keep that momentum and go as far as we did. I thought that was awesome.”
Where does that season rank among your career highlights?
“I think that’s one of my career highlights. It was very special for us, to be able to just have that run like that and keep it going. It was amazing. It’s something that I’ll take with me for the rest of my life, and I think it’s something that the rest of the team is going to carry with them as well. Having those successes and those memories.”
When you talk about the best NFL teams to not win a Super Bowl this century, your 49ers team is in that conversation along with the early-2000s Eagles and the mid-2000s Chargers. Even though you guys didn’t win a Super Bowl, does it mean something to have at least gotten to a Super Bowl, something that many teams don’t get to experience?
“You’re right, a lot of people don’t make it. The Chargers didn’t get there. I think that’s why I’m just grateful to be part of that Niners’ dynasty that we had over there and holding on to those memories. Even though we made it to the Super Bowl and we didn’t pull it off, it’s still great. It’s still fresh in my mind, and I’m very grateful.”
You were able to play with Peyton Manning right at the tail end of his career. What was it like playing with him, especially at that point in his career?
“Peyton was not only a great football player and a great leader, he was a wonderful person. Probably one of the best human beings I’ve ever met. Everything about him. I’m just grateful for him and being able to have that experience to be around one of the greatest football players of all time. I had a lovely time playing with Peyton, and learned a lot from him during my time there.”
After a decade in the NFL, what was it like to finally be able to hoist the Lombardi Trophy?
“It put things in perspective. All the hard work that you put in throughout the years. It may not necessarily work in your favor as far as the team that you’re currently playing for, but later on, it all makes sense to you. Just because you put the work in with this team, you might not win it with this team, you can win it with someone else. But it’s the simple fact that you put in the work, and your journey that you’ve taken throughout the process points to this, to winning a Super Bowl.
“So that’s how I thought about it. I was like, ‘Hey, all of the pain that I had to endure, all of the hardships, all of the ups and downs, ebb and flows of the games, and now I make it to this point.’ It’s just refreshing and breathtaking to be able come out victorious at the end of your career.”
You’re the perfect person to talk to as it relates to Kyle Pitts, who like you faced very high expectations as a high draft pick. What advice would you give to him as he enters his second NFL season?
“I think just being consistent. Consistency and repetition. Whether it’s something that you really want to excel in, that’s what I did. I was really big on just staying consistent. Whether it’s staying after every single practice of my career to catch extra balls.
“I would make sure I would try to catch 400, 500 balls a day so it could be easy to me during game day. That’s something I want to do when it comes to inspiring these young guys, in high school and in college, specifically high school. That’s why I’m excited to host this high school awards show.”
Speaking of the awards show, how excited are you for the opportunity to host the show with Rob Gronkowski?
“I’m honored to host the show, especially with someone like Rob Gronkowski, someone I’ve known for many years. His brother and I played in college together at the University of Maryland.
“Being a part of this is really special for so many different reasons, especially these kids having the platform to be able to be recognized for everything that they’ve done throughout their careers in high school. I think it’s going to be awesome.”
What is one of your favorite high school memories?
“My favorite memory is walking into the head coach’s office and asking him if I could tryout for the football team. He had no idea if I was talented or not. So I walked out, and that first day, everyone was amazed because I ran by everybody. I was so much faster than all the older guys, and they were extremely impressed. So that’s something that I remember, because it’s just refreshing to think back that far and know that I walked in, and guys like Joshua Cribbs were there, a Cleveland Browns legend, so that was pretty awesome.”