Terrell Davis' Hall of Fame career was launched without the ball

Davis appreciates long wait to Hall of Fame (1:37)

Terrell Davis thinks the path to the Hall of Fame reflects his career in that it wasn't easy but he always kept a positive attitude about his chances. (1:37)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Terrell Davis' resume includes many runs, many wins and two Super Bowl trophies.

His former Denver Broncos teammates say they're able to flash their Super Bowl rings because of what Davis did in the biggest moments. Even John Elway, a Hall of Fame quarterback who has also won a title as a Broncos executive, has said: "I know what a Hall of Famer looks like, and TD is a Hall of Famer."

Davis was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, attaining 80 percent approval from the 48-person selection committee. The running back was a league MVP and Super Bowl MVP, rushed for 2,000 yards in a season, and powered the back-to-back Super Bowl champion Broncos to close out the 1997 and 1998 seasons.

Elway and former teammates Rod Smith and Shannon Sharpe -- another Hall of Famer -- can easily recall a long list of moments when Davis lifted the Broncos. Two of the three Lombardi trophies in the lobby of Broncos' suburban Denver complex are certainly proof.

They also remember the one play that changed everything, the one before Davis became TD, before he had rushed for a single yard in a regular-season game, before Davis was anything but a sixth-round pick trying to hang on in the Broncos' depth chart. It is a play so steeped in Broncos' lore that former coach Gary Kubiak used to show the video to the rookie class as proof of what can happen when work and belief intersect.

"It was one of those plays, you just knew there was something in there," said Smith, one of the league's best players to not be drafted. "I tell guys all the time, to stay in this league you have to get noticed one time. Then you have to get noticed every day after that, but that first time, that's the one. You have to make those guys upstairs stop the tape and rewind it to look again and remember your name and your story. Especially if you're not one of those first-round guys."

For Davis, that moment likely came Aug. 6, 1995. In a preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers played in Tokyo, Davis grabbed the Broncos by their proverbial lapels at about 11 a.m. Denver time.

In the third quarter, Davis roared down the field on kickoff coverage and blasted 49ers kick returner Tyronne Drakeford. Davis plowed into Drakeford at the 20-yard line, lifted him off his feet, and launched him 3 yards backward, landing on top of him to end the play.

It was a sliver of a moment from a preseason game that was filed away, but if every journey begins with a first step, that was Davis'. Mike Shanahan, the coach who eventually told his quarterbacks to hand the ball to Davis 1,655 times over the next seven seasons, said that play made him notice Davis.

"It's just your gut," Shanahan said. "You look at players, see how they work, how they carry themselves, but sometimes something just sticks out at you and is that gut feel. We had watched TD work in practice, looked at what he did, how he carried himself -- but that play, that was a gut-feel play."

Davis said the hit in Tokyo meant more as time went on than in that moment.

"I just wanted to show I could tackle somebody on special teams if they kept me around," Davis said.

It was the launching point for one of the best postseason players at any position in the Super Bowl era.

In the years that followed, the Broncos won 91.7 percent of their games in the regular season and postseason when Davis rushed for at least 100 yards. The only two backs in league history to average more than 100 yards rushing per game in the regular season and postseason combined are Jim Brown and Davis.

And it all started when Davis didn't even have a football in his hands.