The 10-year Anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001 was a memorable day for many members of the San Francisco 49ers. It certainly touched Washington D.C. native Vernon Davis, the subject of our third Gameday cover story.
Davis’ patriotic cover shot was done by team photographer Michael Zagaris with the help of his lighting assistant Peter de Silva. Graphic designer Ben Mayberry put the final touches to the cover before it went for sale this past Sunday.
Though Davis was affected by the tragedies of that unfortunate day 10 years ago, the 49ers tight end has vowed to see the world. His passion for life and culture is too strong. So without further ado, here’s my cover story on Davis, the 49ers ambassador.
D.C. native Vernon Davis reflects on 9/11 and his international travels.
By Taylor Price, 49ers.com
Sept. 11, 2001 was a day unlike any other in the life of Vernon Davis and every citizen of the United States of America. On that day, the San Francisco 49ers tight end was a junior at Washington D.C.’s Dunbar High, watching in disbelief as his classroom television depicted terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon as well as the tragic loss of United Airlines Flight 93, a hi-jacked plane which crashed down in Shanksville, Pa. Davis couldn’t fathom how something so heinous could happen so close to his home. “It was devastating,” remembers Davis of that unfortunate day. “A lot of people were crying. You could tell everybody was upset.”
As a result of the tragedies, Davis’ family and community tightened. Davis had to be strong. Without a father figure in his life, he made a point to look out for his six siblings, who were all raised by his grandmother Adaline. Because of her teachings, Davis became a strong-minded individual, focused on setting goals and working hard to achieve them. That mentality also pushed him to explore new hobbies outside of the different sports he played. But never in a million years would Davis think traveling would become one of his top interests. He never flew until college, and only began to travel internationally when he joined the 49ers. But with all the frequent flying Davis has done in recent years, he feels secure wherever he goes. “You just have to believe, believe that things like 9/11 won’t happen again,” says Davis. “You have to live life and keep moving forward. Each day you wake up, you have to keep faith.” Davis still vividly recalls that unprecedented day on Sept. 11, 2001, but more so for its aftermath. He, like every American citizen, takes pride seeing the reinforcement of American patriotism spawned from that day.
Fast forward 10 years and Davis has visited his fair share of foreign countries, often representing the National Football League and the 49ers at each stop. It’s quite a pairing when you stop and think about it. Davis truly appreciates life, art, and culture. Seeing the world has become a passion for Davis, perhaps a close second to becoming arguably the most skilled tight ends in the league. Not many at his position can say they’re a dominant blocker, a vertical pass-catching threat as well as a favored red zone target. Davis is all of those things and more. The six-year pro has 237 catches, 3,011 receiving yards and 29 touchdown catches by the age of 27. He’s also been the 49ers leader in receiving yards and touchdown catches for the past two seasons.
How does Davis do it? How does he continue to improve on the field while being so active off of it? It’s simple. Work never leaves his mind. Take Davis’ trip to London prior to the 49ers participation in the NFL’s 2010 International Series. As a representative of the 49ers and the NFL, Davis took part in a media tour to promote the 49ers game against the Denver Broncos. In between interviews with outlets like the BBC and Sky News, Davis feverishly asked where he could find the nearest gym. “I try work out no matter where I am,” says Davis. “Just because you’re on vacation or away from home, doesn’t mean you change your work habits.” It was the offseason and Davis still wanted to get better. That kind of approach has enabled him to become one of the most athletic tight ends in the league. He’s been working out regularly for most of his life and now stands as a 6-foot-3, 250-pounder, who stretches the middle of the field vertically like a top-flight wide receiver.
Davis’ trek across the pond was one of many international explorations for him two offseasons ago. In that period, he served as an honorary captain for the U.S. men’s curling team at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and traveled to Afghanistan along with several NFL stars to visit American troops stationed in the Middle East. For Davis, trying to pick his favorite foreign excursion is nearly impossible. That would be like him trying to pick out his favorite touchdown from his 2009 season – the year he caught 13 touchdowns – tying the NFL’s single-season touchdown record for a tight end. “Every time I’ve left the country,” says Davis, “I’ve been amazed with what I’ve learned and with what I’ve seen.”
His most recent trip, a venture into Uganda and Rwanda this past offseason as part of the charitable foundation Pros For Africa, might be the most remarkable for him on many levels. For starters, Davis underwent a root canal the night before the tour which almost stopped him from participating in the charitable effort along with his brother Vontae, a cornerback for the Miami Dolphins and other high-profile NFL players. Davis ignored the throbbing pain in his mouth and went on with the outing which began with three different connecting flights in total from San Jose, Calif., to Entebbe, Uganda. As soon as Davis got off the plane his face began to swell. “I looked like Professor Klump,” says Davis with a grin. Discomfort aside, Davis truly enjoyed his experience in Africa. For all the international exposure he’s enjoyed in recent years, this was unlike any other.
“It was one of the most amazing trips I’ve ever been on in my entire life,” says Davis. The outing was rewarding in many ways. Davis and the NFL stars taught their game to young boys and girls. They also helped irrigate a dirty drinking well at a nearby school, so those same students could have proper drinking water. Davis says he was most moved by his encounter distributing hearing aids to boys and girls who had never heard a sound before. “One of the kids went crazy,” recalls Davis. “I was just so happy for him. It was like putting a breath of fresh air into his body. My voice was the first voice this kid heard.”
Davis’ impact on those students was invaluable. The same can be said for what he means to the 49ers. As one of the franchise’s cornerstone players, Davis represents his team in the community and on the field to the highest standard. He is all class and plays the game the right way. So when the 49ers host the Seattle Seahawks 10 years after the devastation that is so close to Davis’ heart, he’ll continue to play the same inspired game he learned to play back in D.C.
Playing on the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 is not lost on Davis. Of all people in the 49ers locker room, he knows how important this moment and this game will be for our country. It’s a celebration of our freedom, our way of life, something Davis proudly exudes with his vibrant personality. “It’ll mean a lot to play on this day,” says Davis. “We’re playing in front of the world; we’re playing for the United States. We’re playing for all those people who died and all the families who suffered losses. That’s what it means to me. That’s what I’m playing for.”
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