It’s a borderline miracle that Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis was even able to step out onto the practice field with his teammates this past training camp. Davis suffered his third ACL tear in three years early last season forcing him to sit-out for the remainder of 2011 after missing all of 2010 and playing in only seven games in 2009.
The once highly touted linebacker out of the University of Georgia and 14th overall selection by the Panthers in the 2005 NFL Draft was supposed to be a mainstay and potential Pro-Bowler for the Panthers for years and years to come. Indeed, Davis proved early in his career that he had the talent to play at a very high level, but recent injuries have held him back for most of his tenure in the league.
So, when Davis went down in week two of last year with his third ACL tear in three years, it seemed likely that the dynamic playmaker’s career was over.
One ACL tear is enough to derail any athlete let alone three, so the odds were stacked up against Davis as he prepared to undergo yet another major surgical operation to his right knee.
None of this apparently discouraged Davis, as he and world renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews embarked on another grueling rehabilitation process. If Davis were to somehow make it back onto the field it was almost assured that he wouldn’t ever be his old self. At least that’s how it was supposed to be, no other player in NFL history had ever comeback from three ACL tears let alone had even tried.
The Panthers were more than willing to give Davis another shot, but they protected themselves first by reconstructing Davis’ contract in order to give themselves some insurance if Davis were to go down with an injury again. However, the Panthers did provide a financial incentive of an added $1 million for 2013 if Davis were to stay healthy and play for the entire 2012 season.
Well, as Panthers fans are well aware of, Davis did more than just stay healthy for all of 2012; his impact was felt all over the field this season, racking up 103 tackles, two forced fumbles, and one interception.
Davis earned his $1 million bonus incentive for next year and in doing so he should have earned himself the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Davis’ return embodies what the award is all about. He did something no other player in league history has ever done, but he didn’t just comeback to the Panthers and play limited football; he came back and performed at a high level.
At this point its unlikely Davis will receive the honor; he isn’t a quarterback or running back and plays for a team that finished the regular season 7-9 and out of the playoffs.
If Davis doesn’t win the award then the NFL should change the award’s name to something else because Davis’ return to football was a true comeback story.
Robert Kester, Rant Sports Carolina Panthers Columnist. Contact @robertkester1