49ers’ tight end Vernon Davis arrives at curling
February 20, 2010
VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Vernon Davis was in the house. He gave the Americans a quick pep talk and a much-needed morale boost.
The Pro Bowl tight end from the San Francisco 49ers and lifelong Olympics fan arrived Friday at Vancouver Olympic Center, sporting a royal blue USA jacket with “DAVIS” on the back and a plaid flannel beneath to cheer the Americans to their first victory.
“Oh, this is awesome,” Davis said when he climbed the stairs to his seat and took his first look at the ice. “Yeah, this is cool, just like on TV, outstanding.”
Then, he pulled out his phone and shot a short video for his fans, saying: “I’m about to have a ball, so excited I can’t believe it. Stay tuned.”
“It’s like a once in a lifetime,” Davis said later in the mixed zone, doing interviews alongside the U.S. team after a 4-3 win over France. “Everybody doesn’t come to the Olympics and get a chance to meet guys on different teams. It’s quite an honor, and I really appreciate it.”
Davis threw his right arm into the air in the eighth, then cheered when No. 4 shooter Jason Smith’s last rock of the ninth tied the game at 3. He celebrated by pumping both fists when the Americans secured their first Olympic win by scoring in the 10th.
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Davis rooted for the Americans as their honorary captain – and he’ll be back in the stands for their game with Sweden on Saturday. He greeted the team before players marched out to their sheet for pregame introductions, then was there with a congratulatory handshake afterward.
“The guys were very focused. They seemed like they were focused trying to make things happen, and that’s what they did,” Davis said. “That’s what you get when you’ve got a good team. Everybody sticks together and plays well.”
This opportunity came about after Davis gave curling a try in November and loved it, capturing the attention of USA Curling officials in Wisconsin. They made the invite. The 26-year-old Davis recently participated in some public service announcements for the sport following a career year on the football field and his first Pro Bowl selection.
“It’s a tough game, a tough sport,” said Davis, who was constantly smiling after flying in from San Francisco earlier in the day. “It’s not as physical as football, but it’s a tough sport to compete at. I say that because you have to be very accurate, you have to be athletic as far as holding your balance and you’ve got to be smart.”
Also on Davis’ agenda while in town is a trip to the athletes’ village and the speedskating oval if he can get tickets, a stop at the USA House, lunch with the curling Olympians and a visit to the Vancouver Curling Club.
He has been watching the Olympics at home, so it was a little surreal to finally be in Canada and part of the games.
“It’s a really special thing to have somebody of that stature involved in curling,” U.S. lead John Benton said. “This is kind of what we’ve dreamed of. Vernon’s an excellent athlete, obviously, and to have him here in attendance did give us a boost.”
When Davis heard that Benton is 40 and called “great-grandpa” by his younger teammates, the tight end quipped: “You look young. You play great.”
Davis could relate to the curlers to some degree considering San Francisco (8-8) had its share of late-game, heartbreaking losses. Before Friday, the Americans had been beaten three straight times in extra ends. They made a lineup change, benching regular skip John Shuster in favor of alternate Chris Plys.
Davis, too, dealt with a quarterback switch in October.
“There’s been times when we had to talk to our quarterback,” Davis said. “What guys should know is always be thankful and appreciate the next guy and believe in him. You’ve always got to have two guys. If it ain’t working out for the first guy, then the second guy should be able to step in and make things happen.”
Davis said he was amazed by the ski jumpers and Olympic halfpipe gold medalist Shaun White.
“Yeah, the redhead, he’s an interesting guy. He’s out there having fun, and he has a lot of swagger. He’s kind of like myself. He’s confident, he knows what he’s going to do,” Davis said. “I was watching (ski jumping) today when I got in and was just amazed how a human can just jump and it was like they’re flying. I couldn’t do it. You couldn’t put me out there.”
Davis – who was in Miami last month for his Pro Bowl debut as an NFC starter – showed up on a spectacular, clear day.
“I’ve got a couple of sweaters and some funny-looking hats, but it’s too warm to wear them,” he said, chuckling, before later pulling one on to stay warm near the ice. “It’s beautiful. I feel like I’m in Miami right now.”
Davis finished his fourth NFL season in 2009 with career highs of 78 catches and 965 yards and tied Antonio Gates’ NFL record for touchdowns by a tight end with 13. After the season ended, he shot several curling public service announcements at 49ers team headquarters and with the San Francisco Bay Area Curling Club at the San Jose Sharks’ practice ice.
Canada boasts about a million curlers, to only around 15,000 in the United States – mostly in the Midwest. The number of club curlers around the U.S. has grown significantly since the 2006 Turin Olympics, and the hope is there will be another boom after these Winter Olympics.
If Davis can help in any way, he’s thrilled to do it.
“I went back home to Washington D.C. and everybody was asking me about the sport, ‘What is curling?”‘ he said. “I said, ‘Just watch it and check it out.’ This is what I tell people, I twitter it, everything, ‘When you get out there and try it, you’ll fall in love with it, just like I did.”‘