Willie Davis joined the Cleveland Browns as a 17th round draft choice in 1958 after two years in the services and immediately broke into the starting line up in his rookie season. As the Browns were the team of the 1950s, this was a fantastic achievement and Willie was also the last Cleveland player to play both ways. In 1960, much to his surprise, he was traded to the Green Bay Packers and met Vince Lombardi who was an extension of Nathan Jones, his high school coach, and Eddie Robinson, his coach at Grambling College. These three people along with his dear mother had a great effect on the man Willie Davis was to become. Two letters from 1992, written by Bob Lilly and Merlin Olsen, confirm what his fellow professionals thought about Willie Davis.
Willie was blessed with a body and a mind to excel in professional football and at defensive end he played with skill, intelligence and passion. Between 1960 and 1969 he played 162 consecutive games, a record for a player on defense and made 21 opponent fumble recoveries.
Steve Mariucci remembers watching Green Bay when he was 8 years old and he says, “obviously Willie Davis was a great player but my memory of him is of signing autographs for all the kids and whatever was needed in the community Willie was there”. So Coach Mariucci agrees with Coach Lombardi who said, “in Willie Davis we got a great one”.
Doctor Feelgood, as Willie was known, had excellent agility, sincerity and great determination and his gratitude to professional football is expressed in his whole attitude to the game. Between games, and even in the off-season he replayed game situations over and over in his mind, analysing the errors. He was a worrier, not about the team winning but about how he would play. He was a natural leader on the field and forged a close bond with his beloved Coach. When Willie found out how seriously ill Coach Lombardi was, he flew from San Diego to Washington for a visit. He teased Vince, “if you will come back to Green Bay and coach again, I will come out of retirement”. Vince smiled with tears in his eyes and replied, “Willie, you’re a hell of a man”. As Vince began to cry (he was always a man who showed his emotions) Willie left the room – the visit had lasted barely two minutes. Afterwards Willie stood for half an hour in the hospital corridor, his head against the wall. This epitomizes the reasons why the Packers were so successful in the 1960s - the players loved each other and would have walked through fire for their coach.
Willie earned a Master’s degree in business administration from the University of Chicago and became a very successful businessman when his playing career was over.
Joe DiMaggio was once quoted as saying, “there is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first or last time. I owe him my best”.
That’s what Willie Davis always gave on and off the field - his best. He was indeed the very best of Grambling College.