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Hall of Fame Packers defensive end Willie Davis dead at age 85

New York Giants Quarterback Fran Tarkenton (10), tries to get a pass off in the first quarter of a game against the Green Bay Packers Oct. 22, 1967 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York. Pursuing Tarkenton are Packer defenders Willie Davis (87) and Lionel Aldridge (82) Willie Young (69) of the Giants trails at right. Packers won 48-21. (AP Photo)
New York Giants Quarterback Fran Tarkenton (10), tries to get a pass off in the first quarter of a game against the Green Bay Packers Oct. 22, 1967 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York. Pursuing Tarkenton are Packer defenders Willie Davis (87) and Lionel Aldridge (82) Willie Young (69) of the Giants trails at right. Packers won 48-21. (AP Photo)(WSAW)
Published: Apr. 15, 2020 at 12:37 PM CDT
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Willie Davis, a Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive lineman who helped the Green Bay Packers win each of the first two Super Bowls, has died. He was 85.

The Packers confirmed Davis’ death to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Wednesday, as did his former teammate and fellow hall member, Dave Robinson.

A 15th-round draft pick from Grambling, Davis began his NFL career by playing both offense and defense for the Cleveland Browns in 1958 and ’59. He had his greatest success after getting traded to the Packers.

He instead stuck it out and developed into one of the top defensive linemen of his era.

“Willie’s extraordinary athleticism was an undeniable factor in Green Bay’s winning tradition of the 1960s under coach Vince Lombardi,” Hall of Fame President David Baker said. “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.”

In an NFL Films tribute to Davis, former Packers center Bill Curry called him “the finest combination of leader and player that I ever saw.” In that same tribute, former Packers offensive lineman and Hall of Fame member Forrest Gregg said that “I can’t ever remember a football game that he played in where I didn’t think Willie Davis played absolutely the best he could possibly play that day.”

Davis force a Johnny Unitas fumble to help seal the Packers’ 1966 Western Conference championship, and he tormented Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson and Raiders quarterback Daryle Lamonica in the first two Super Bowls.

“He put as much fear in me, because of what he could do and his abilities, as any defensive end that I had to face,” Dawson told NFL Films.

Davis earned a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Chicago late in his NFL career, which helped him make a successful transition to the business world after he stopped playing.

“We all knew football wasn’t going to last forever,” Davis wrote in his book. “The longevity of the average football player was less than 10 years, and that meant there were many men who were jobless with little financial security by the time they were in their early 30s. That was a scary prospect. I wanted to make sure I didn’t fall into that category.”

Davis instead had a successful business career and served on the boards of directors for several companies, including Dow Chemical Co., Sara Lee Corp., Schlitz Brewing and Mattel Toys.

He also was on the Packers’ board of directors from 1994-2005.

“Along the way, there were key moments at each stage, key opportunities that, when I took full advantage of them, propelled me to the next level,” Davis wrote in his book. “I had some slip-ups along the way, but when it mattered, when it was important, I stepped up, practiced what I believed, took the advice of those I respected and went for it with everything I could give. That’s how I succeeded in football, business and beyond.”

Statement from Green Bay Packers persident/CEO Mark Murphy:

“The Green Bay Packers Family was saddened today to learn about the passing of Willie Davis,” said Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy. “One of the great defensive players of his era, Willie was a significant contributor to the Packers’ five NFL championship teams during the 1960s.

“I enjoyed getting to know Willie and his wife, Carol, especially when he served as our honorary captain for the 2010 NFC Championship game and Super Bowl XLV, and again for the 2014 NFC Championship game. He was a great role model for our players, having gone on to a very successful career after football and serving on the Packers Board of Directors.

“We extend our deepest condolences to Carol, as well as their family and friends.”

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