There are 32 teams in the National Football League and only two reach the coveted Super Bowl championship game each season. This Sunday it is the Chicago Bears and the Indianapolis Colts, playing in Miami, Florida. And VOA Sports Editor Parke Brewer has the story of one Bears' player who beat long odds just to make it in the NFL.
In a sport where the average player stands one meter 87 centimeters tall and weighs 112 kilograms, Rashied Davis is one of the shortest players in the NFL at one meter 75 centimeters, and one of the lightest at 80 kilograms.
But Davis had to overcome more than his lack of height and weight to become a professional American football player. He was born in poverty in south central Los Angeles, known for its urban decay in the 1980s and 1990s. He was raised with eight brothers and sisters and had to walk dangerous streets ruled by gangs, streets where his father was murdered when Rashied was only eight years old. He often fell asleep to the sounds of gunfire. Davis was shielded by his siblings and somehow avoided the drugs and the violence.
"I didn't have the heart to do it," he said. "I couldn't go out and bang [get involved] like that. It's a tough thing. You're out there fighting for your life. Every day you step on the street, you step out of your house, you know what I mean, you have to look over your shoulder left and right. You have to do that anyway, but even more so when you're part of a gang and selling drugs and things like that."
Rashied Davis loved football since he was a child. He was always an excellent athlete, but he was always too little to fit into a football uniform. He was still small when he got to high school. He stood only one meter 62 centimeters and weighed just 40 kilograms, so he never played high school football. And Davis said he had no idea what he wanted to do after graduating. And one day it hit him hard.
"You know I didn't play any football. I didn't do anything. I was just kind of a wanderer, you know," he recalled. "I saw myself bothered [in the mirror] in the bathroom at my cousin's house, you know upset, crying and wondering, like, I didn't feel like I was supposed to be doing that. And it all changed after that."
Davis grew enough in high school and was confident enough in his abilities to try football in college and he played two years for San Jose State University in California. He was hoping to be drafted by an NFL team, but that did not happen so he played professional indoor American football in the Arena Football League for three seasons with the San Jose SaberCats. He was named Most Valuable Player of their 2002 championship team.
While Davis started his career as a defensive back, he was converted to a wide receiver and kick returner, signing as a free agent by the NFL's Chicago Bears prior to the 2005 season. It was not until this season, his second, that Davis caught his first NFL touchdown pass. And it was the winning score in the Bears' win last September over the Minnesota Vikings. In this year's playoffs, Davis made a crucial 30-yard catch in overtime against the Seattle Seahawks to set up the game-winning field goal that helped lead the Chicago Bears back to the Super Bowl for the first time in 21 years.
"Man, it's a tremendous feeling, you know, to be at this level and to be in the Super Bowl when no one expected me even to be in the NFL, you know," he added. "It's a tremendous feeling to be a contributor, not just on the team, but a contributor who has actually made some plays in the season feels great."
Rashied Davis survived a difficult childhood, never played high school football and was not drafted by an NFL team, but now he is hoping to help lead the Chicago Bears to victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday for the Bears' first Super Bowl title in 21 years.