ATHENS — In April of 2015, two men sat a table sharing lunch at the Hotel del Coronado, an iconic beach resort across the bay from San Diego. It’d been 21 years since they’d been able to have a sit-down, in-person conversation. This one was deep. And cathartic.
The gentlemen who broke bread that day were Terrell Davis and Ray Goff. One was just selected this past weekend for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The other put away his whistle as a football coach two decades ago after his stint as Georgia’s head coach.
The narrative has always been that these two individuals had a problem with each other that dates back to the early 1990s when Davis was playing for the Bulldogs. Thanks in equal parts to that meeting in San Diego and the smoothing effect of time and perspective, there’s not a problem anymore.
“Ray Goff and I are pretty close right now,” Davis said by phone from Los Angeles on Wednesday. “We talk and text all the time. We talked about two years ago when I had something on my heart that didn’t feel right, you know. So we’re pretty good. We’re in a really good place right now.”
For his part, Goff insists he didn’t know there was any kind of issue. Oh, he’d heard a few whispers over the years. But it wasn’t until he was contacted by a television producer two years ago to do an on-camera interview about their “problem” that he was fully aware of the perceived story line.
“They were doing a 30 for 30 (television series) on Terrell and they called me to do something with it,” Goff said Wednesday. “They insinuated there was a problem from Terrell’s side. I didn’t even have an idea there was a problem.”
First Goff turned down that interview. Then he tracked down Davis’ number and gave him a call.
They talked for a while on the phone. Davis at that point was long retired from the NFL and living in Los Angeles. It just so happened that Goff was going to be in San Diego the next month for a Zaxby’s convention. They agreed to meet then and talk it out.
“Both of us were kind of relieved to hear from each other and not through other people,” Davis said. “I apologized to him and he apologized to me. We were both young and blah, blah, blah. It was great, man, and now we talk all the time.”
Things have certainly turned out well for both men. Davis was one of seven individuals selected for induction into the Hall’s Class of 2017 this past Saturday in Houston. In his third year as a finalist, Davis joins fellow former running back LaDainian Tomlinson, quarterback Kurt Warner, defensive end Jason Taylor and kicker Morten Andersen, along with senior inductee Kenny Easley and contributor Jerry Jones.
Davis, who serves as a studio host for the NFL Network’s show “Total Access,” just got back home to Los Angeles late Tuesday night. He has been doing interviews pretty much on the hour ever since.
“I’m not tired of it yet, thank you,” he said.
Davis becomes one of three pro football Hall inductees from UGA. He joins Charley Trippi and Fran Tarkenton.
Goff has made millions as a developer with the Zaxby’s restaurant chain.
Davis’ accomplishment is amazing on a couple of levels. First, he did it after being a sixth-round draft choice in 1995. And he was able to do it after playing just seven NFL seasons, all with the Denver Broncos. He retired in 2002 due to injuries. Nevertheless, he remains the Broncos’ all-time leading rusher with 7,607 rushing yards and 60 rushing touchdowns. He also helped Denver win two Super Bowls, was named a Super Bowl MVP and won an NFL MVP award after rushing for 2,008 yards in 1998.
That’s considerably more productive than Davis was in three injury-marred seasons at Georgia. He finished with 1,657 rushing yards and 18 total touchdowns in his career, which began as a backup to Garrison Hearst at tailback in 1992 after transferring there from Long Beach State. He would miss eight games over the next two seasons due to injuries, but did manage to lead the Bulldogs in rushing both years.
It was then, at that time, that Davis admits he and Goff “didn’t see eye-to-eye.” He has mentioned in books and various interviews over the years what he characterized as a mishandling of a hamstring injury he was dealing with during his career with the Bulldogs. In a nutshell, the accusation was that Goff and members of his coaching and training staff did not believe a hamstring injury of which Davis was complaining was serious. Davis said he ended up tearing the hamstring, which caused him to miss several games.
Goff doesn’t like to talk publicly about the details of the situation other than to say that he and the coaches made playing-time decisions on the advice and counsel of the training and medical staff of the day. And there were many more interactions that Goff and Davis had in those days beyond injury issues and playing time.
“I think of Ray a lot,” Davis said as he drove his 6-year-old son Jaxon to school Wednesday morning. “I get emotional talking about him right now. I learned a lot from him. A lot of times you don’t realize the effect somebody is having on you until years later. You kind of missed the message.”
Davis said he still proudly identifies himself as a Bulldog. He credits his three years in Athens as providing the foundation for his NFL career.
“I didn’t have the success I would have liked at Georgia, but Georgia is still the building block for me,” Davis said. “That’s where I got the confidence to know I could compete at the highest level. I look back on my career and every step of the way was important to developing who I am today as a person. So what I went through at Georgia, the good and the bad, I don’t wish it was different. It all makes you who you are. I’m not who I am today if I don’t go play at Georgia.”
Retrospectively, Davis said he’s glad he endured injury problems and sporadic playing time at Georgia.
“If I’d have gone out and had a 1,500-yard season or something like that, I may have gotten drafted by the Cleveland Browns or something,” he said. “Instead I ended up in Denver, which was the perfect place for me.”
That it was. And when Davis got the call for the Hall, one of the first persons he heard congratulations from was Goff.
“It worked out great for Terrell,” Goff said. “He ended up in the perfect place at the perfect time. He was a great player for us, but unfortunately he had injuries. I tell him, ‘if we had run you like Garrison you would have been worn out by the time you got the NFL.'”
Meanwhile, Goff holds out hope that another one of his former players soon will be enshrined alongside Davis in Canton.
“Hopefully next year Hines (Ward) will go in,” he said.