Our Ron Lippock spoke to former Steelers and other NFL players in memory of longtime guard Sam Davis, who passed away on Tuesday.
Davis played for the Steelers from 1967 to 1979 and was an offensive captain, a four-time Super Bowl winner and a member of the team’s 50th anniversary all-time team.
Steelers S Donnie Shell 1974-87: “My rookie year, Sam Davis and Mel Blount mentored me. In the early seventies, there were no player development programs to assist you in coping with life in the NFL. The veteran Steelers players would take rookies under their wings and mentor them. This mentoring was done quietly behind the scenes, but I believe it was one on the main reasons we were successful as an organization. When the Steelers played a West Coast team, I had the privilege of speaking with Sam Davis for three hours about the nuances of the NFL.”
Steelers QB Terry Hanratty (1969-75): “Sam was a wonderful friend and a great teammate. He was very quiet, but when you got him laughing he had one of the greatest laughs of all time. He was a good person. It was just sad to see how it all came to an end.
“You’re seeing it end this way for a bunch of guys — too many guys. I’ve seen too many football players end up like this.
“As for Sam, he and Jon Kolb were probably the two most under-rated players in the NFL. Neither got enough credit. He was a good captain too. Silent, but a good leader.”
Steelers G Larry Gagner (1966-69): “Although Sam played behind me (and Bruce Van Dyke) for a couple of years, I wasn’t really that close to him. I do remember his first wife, Gladys, as being a wonderful, outgoing personality. Similar to Sam’s, if not a mirror image.
“I couldn’t have chosen a better individual (and player) to replace me after the Steelers traded me to the Giants following my automobile accident (questionable) recovery. I’m glad for Sam to have played in some Steelers Super Bowls.
“I’m not so joyful about how his life turned out after football. If they do autopsy on Sam’s brain, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised that a considerable amount of CTE will be found.”
Steelers T Gordon Gravelle 1972-76: “When I heard yesterday of Sam’s passing, I was really saddened too. Sam was a teammate and friend who I hadn’t seen in years. I heard he had been having some rough times. I remember Sam as a stand-up guy. No complaints, always doing his job, but more importantly he was a veteran who looked after the younger offensive linemen as he led by example. Tough and quiet, Sam didn’t say much, but he had an infectious laugh and was a great guy to pal around with.
“Sam had a nickname, ‘tight man.’ No idea where or when he got it and I don’t know why we called him that name, but it really seemed to fit him. ”
Steelers RB/TE Warren Bankston 1969-72: “Sam Davis was the ultimate professional in every category. He played with passion, extraordinary physical ability, and a desire to win. He was quiet on and off the field, without bragging or patting himself on the back. Many players get fined for missing curfew and other violations set by the team, but not Sam. He believed in the rules and respected them.
“His tenure on the field speaks for itself. He was a solid rock in four Super Bowls : IX, X, XIII, and XIV. What more could a team want than a true professional on and off the field?”
Cleveland Browns DL Jerry Sherk: “Sam Davis and my old college teammate Jon Kolb, you could feel when they were about to double-team you. They were big weightlifters. I’d just try to plant my feet and try to hold my ground.
“I’m sorry to hear of his passing. Sam was a great football player and part of, I believe, an underrated line. They should’ve been as heralded as the steel curtain, but perhaps they weren’t as colorful as characters. I didn’t really know Sam that well. He was a pretty quiet guy. We always have a lot of respect for each other on the field, there was no trash talking.
“When people ask me who what is the best offensive linemen I ever played against the answer was always not one person but the entire Pittsburgh Steelers offense of line. They played like a finely tuned watch. And Sam was part of it. He was tough he was smart and have all the qualities of a great player. Those three guys on the side of the field I lined up on — Mike Webster, John Kolb, and Davis – I didn’t see any difference between the three. Webster’s in the Hall of Fame, but I think Davis and Kolb have those credentials as well.”
Steelers OL Mel Holmes 1971-73: “Sam Davis attended Allen University, a small al-black college located in South Carolina. Sam went on to play, I believe 15 or more years in the league. One of the best offensive lineman I ever met, bar none. I believe he was a product of segregation.
“In addition, he also told me he ran the 440 (quarter) on the track team. Is that spectacular or what? Can you picture an offensive guard running the 440 on a track team. Nevertheless, the Steelers took a chance on him and it paid great dividends for them.”
Steelers DT Gary Dunn 1976-87: “I remember Sam worked at Heinz in the offseason and I was always so impressed with him as a rookie. He was like a business man in a football uniform. He was a good guy and a good teammate. I remember he used to ask me to work out with him my rookie season. He’d choose me for some reason.
“We sat down one day and had a couple of beers and I asked him why. He told me it was because I always stood straight up in drills — it made him look good! He gave me some tips, and a few weeks later I told him I hadn’t seen him lately. He told me I learned too quickly and I wasn’t making him look good anymore!”
Steelers WR Jon Staggers 1970-71: “Sam was someone who guided and took the time to share his understanding of what it takes to be a professional. Not very big as lineman goes yet fast. Worked very hard and learned his craft. He shared who he was and always held his head high. A good brother, a good man, a good human being.”