Willie Davis, NFL Hall of Famer and Legendary Packers Defensive End, Dies at 85

Green Bay Packer standout Willie Davis is pictured in 1965. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Photo

Born the son of sharecroppers, Willie Davis never took success for granted.

He attended a historically black college in the 1950s, far off the NFL’s radar. He was drafted in the 15th round by the Cleveland Browns. Then drafted into the U.S. Army at the onset of the Vietnam War. Then traded two seasons into his career.

“The road to success,” Davis once famously said, “runs uphill.”

No, Davis wasn’t a likely candidate to become the Hall of Fame anchor for Vince Lombardi’s defensive line. Here he was, given a fresh start at age 26, an outcast joining the Green Bay Packers in 1960.

Finally, that road reached its peak. Finally, Davis’ path started to trail downhill.

Davis, whose NFL career was surpassed only by his post-playing career, died Wednesday at age 85. He left behind a legacy of unquestioned success, a Packers legend who retired to become a millionaire business owner.

Davis’ parents escaped that sharecropper’s farm in Lisbon, Louisiana, to make a new life for their son. His father left the family when Davis was 8, but the family forged on. Blessed with size (6-foot-3, 243 pounds) and athleticism, the defensive end teammate and roommate Jerry Kramer nicknamed “Dr. Feelgood” became a stalwart for all five Packers world championships in the Glory Years of the 1960s.

Lombardi never had a doubt.

“I consider speed, agility and size to be the three most important attributes in a successful lineman,” Lombardi told Davis when he arrived in Green Bay, according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “Give me a man who has any two of those dimensions, and he’ll do OK. But give him all three, and he’ll be great. We think you have all three.”

Davis, playing at a time before sacks became an official stat, likely is the most accomplished pass rusher in Packers history.

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SOURCE: USA Today, Ryan Wood