Hall of Fame DE Willie Davis, a pillar of Lombardi's Packers, dies at 85

Frank Schwab
·3 min read
Willie Davis (87) pressures Raiders quarterback Daryle Lamonica during Super Bowl II. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
Willie Davis (87) pressures Raiders quarterback Daryle Lamonica during Super Bowl II. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Hall of Fame defensive end Willie Davis, one of Vince Lombardi’s shrewdest acquisitions and one of his best players through a dynasty in the 1960s, died at age 85.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced Davis died on Wednesday.

“It is with great sadness the entire Pro Football Hall of Fame family mourns the passing of Willie Davis,” Pro Football Hall of Fame president David Baker said in a statement. “Willie’s extraordinary athleticism was an undeniable factor in Green Bay’s winning tradition of the 1960s under Coach Lombardi. He helped the Packers through an unprecedented championship run and to two Super Bowl victories. Willie was a man of true character on and off the field. The Hall of Fame will forever keep his legacy alive to serve as inspiration to future generations.”

Davis started his career with the Cleveland Browns. He spent two seasons with the Browns and then the Packers, coming off Lombardi’s first season as head coach, traded end/flanker A.D. Williams to Cleveland for Davis.

It became one of the best trades (or worst, for Cleveland) in NFL history. Williams caught one pass for 5 yards in his lone Browns season and was out of football after the 1961 season. Davis became a five-time All-Pro and was a part of all five Packers championship teams in the 1960s, including the champions of the first two Super Bowls. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1981.

Davis played his college ball at Grambling State University. He was inducted into the Black College Football Hall of Fame in 2011. Davis was a 15th-round pick of the Browns in 1956, then spent two years in the Army.

Davis became an immediate starter for the Packers and never missed a game in his 10 Packers seasons. He was one of the best pass rushers of his era and also strong against the run. Davis was the first African-American captain in Packers history. He retired after the 1969 season. He was a part of the all-decade team of the 1960s.

After his retirement from the NFL, Davis became a successful businessman and served on several boards of directors, including the Packers’ from 1994 to 2005. In 1989 Davis was one of four finalists for the job of NFL commissioner, a job that went to Paul Tagliabue.

“The emphasis on good habits is something that I learned from Coach Lombardi and have preached to myself over my years as a business leader,” Davis wrote in “Closing the Gap: Lombardi, The Packers Dynasty And The Pursuit Of Excellence,” via Investors Business Daily. “We can deceive ourselves by thinking that having a clear goal in mind is enough to keep us on track, but it's not. … We must develop good habits to keep on the path.

“Good habits included individual responsibility, accountability, self-discipline, commitment, focus, and hard work. There is nothing new and revolutionary in this philosophy. We all know what kind of results these kinds of good habits can bring.”

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