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Demario Davis has spoken to God
And these conversations give the Saints a prayer in 2022. It is no coincidence that this linebacker — this heartbeat of the defense — only gets better with age. What a spiritual journey it’s been…
NEW ORLEANS — The man in the middle of the New Orleans Saints defense is in the middle of the family kitchen. This is mostly foreign terrain. Demario Davis refers to himself as the “center” and his wife as the “quarterback” when it comes to cooking dinner for their four daughters and one son.
“Get her the rock,” he jokes, “and get out of the way!”
Understandable since Tamela has her own cooking show locally. This evening, however, Davis is piloting the no-huddle offense. He’s sizzling taco crunchwraps at the stove top and they smell heavenly. So good that Dad cannot help but steal a bite off one kid’s plate as he heads to the family room to eat his own wrap. Davis lounges on the tan leather couch for this week’s session of vitamin therapy. One of the many health gurus in his inner circle sticks the IV needle into his left wrist, as the kids watch “Sing 2” on a massive TV screen.
This is the scene of a 33-year-old at peace. Nestled on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain, his home is extravagant and squeaky clean and — above all — brimming with love. Over his shoulder is a changing table with two huge baskets full of diapers. An abstract painting is hung up on the wall. There’s sparkling décor inside and a scenic pool outside. Tamela sits next to Demario to get the same therapy this day.
This has been a choppy season for the New Orleans Saints. The roster was besieged by injuries and navigating life post-Drew Brees hasn’t been fun.
Yet right here sits a reason to always believe.
One of the best linebackers in the sport. If not, the best.
His career arc is bizarre. Onto Season No. 11, Game No. 174 against the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football, this 6-foot-2, 248-pound sledgehammer is ascending. He only ascends. After zero Pro Bowls and zero All-Pros his first seven seasons, Davis has been an All-Pro in each of the last three seasons. No. 4 is in reach, too. Davis has 43 tackles, five sacks and seven QB hits through eight games. So there’s only one logical place to begin this conversation.
With one simple question, one word: How?
He points to his faith.
“My life is one that’s not only surrendered to God,” Davis begins, “but God is the mover in my life. That’s the battle every day, to stay surrendered.”
Next, he points to the conversations he’s had with God. There have been many. These aren’t symbolic conversations, either. No, these are always as real, as direct, as “audible” as you can imagine. The first chat was particularly life-changing. Demario was 15 years old. It was the middle of the night. He nearly lost his life. Don’t believe him? He turns his forearm over to reveal a scar that’s still pronounced all these years. Whenever Davis is tested in football, in life, all he ever needs to do is look down at his wrist — gaze at the scar — and remember he’s lucky to be alive. He didn’t realize it in the moment. Not when the doctor stitching him up repeated three times over that Davis was “a lucky kid.”
But then, a different voice spoke to him.
“You always hear people talk about, ‘I heard from God.’ It was very clear.”
The voice is something more profound than your conscience alone. “That’s Strike Two,” the voice said, noting that Strike One was getting expelled from school a few months prior. “Number 2,” the voice continued, “was that you almost died tonight.”
Davis wasn’t sure what this voice meant. Almost died? Huh?
That’s when God told him to take a closer look at the gash in his arm, to see exactly how close it was to his wrist. He did. He realized two or three inches south and… yes. He would’ve bled out.
Strike Three, the voice promised, would be either jail or death.
“That’s what scared me straight,” Davis says. “It wasn’t what happened. It was the voice of God that scared me. Because I knew that, if I messed up again, I would be in trouble.”
Eighteen years later, the scar is a visual reminder of what makes Davis one of the best players in this sport, what still gives the 3-5 Saints an endless supply of hope and — above all — how all players in the pressure-packed world that is professional football can live. He’s the soul of this franchise. A captain conditioned for both the mental and physical rigors of a profession unlike any in America because of his spiritual journey.
For a moment, consider life as a pro football player. The high-stakes nature of the NFL eats the weak alive.
The threat of injury is endless. Players know they’re signing up to play a violent sport that can exact permanent pain. All while their own bosses, of course, are on a quest to find their replacement. One dropped ball, one missed tackle, one mistake can swiftly eject a fringe player to the waiver wire. Just like that, you’re uprooting your family’s life and moving to a new city. If you’re lucky, of course. There’s a chance you could be finished for good, especially when a crop of 300 college players awaits the following spring. And when a season turns sideways? When a team’s spiraling into the abyss at 3-7… 3-8… 3-9? There’s a tendency for all of those in power on the sinking ship to race at warp speed toward a limited supply of life rafts.
Because to the suits in charge, players are commodities. A salary-cap number.
To millions at home, players are names plugged into fantasy lineups. The reason for a lost gambling bet. Here’s a terrifying exercise: The next time any player screws up in a primetime game, go ahead and enter his name into a Twitter search. It’s sick. One split-second gaffe unleashes the wrath of degenerate gamblers and can send a player into depression and, hey, wouldn’t you know. There’s the NFL nestling into bed with FanDuel. (Nothing to see here!)
And, oh. Each of the 70 plays in a football game also happens to be a car crash.
The forces of nature who make this game go — the players putting their bodies and brains at risk — are dehumanized from all angles. Few seem to care who that player is behind the facemask. And that is a reason why so many NFL players become so devoutly religious. Within this 500-degree pressure cooker of a profession, when so much is out of your control, many choose to put their trust in a higher power. To let go. Because it’s the only way to navigate through such day-to-day life with their sanity.
Go ahead and roll your eyes when somebody like Davis speaks in such terms if you may. The No. 1 reason the heartbeat of the Saints only gets better with age is because he’s so spiritual and, yes, these Saints will follow his lead. They always do. Through the utter chaos that is an NFL season, you want Demario Davis leading your sermon.
He’s not immune to breaking points.
He once felt his own world crashing down.
Demario Davis can remember exactly when his own career could’ve come to a screeching halt.
He was in the midst of Year 5. With the Cleveland Browns. And tears streamed down his face.
That voice of God spoke to him once more.
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Ready to quit
His body was breaking down. In Year 5, as a Cleveland Brown, all aches and all pains struck at once. There wasn’t one specific injury paralyzing his spirit from Week 7 to Week 8 to this exact point of the 2016 season and that’s what was most troubling. Head to toe, Davis was just… hurting. Exasperated. “Totally finished,” he admits.
His mind transports back to rock bottom.
It was a Thursday in late November. The Browns were a winless laughingstock. He wasn’t playing well and, upon pulling into his driveway, Davis was utterly “exhausted.” He told God, right then, he was finished with football. Dragging himself through practice that day was a miserable experience.
“My body can’t go anymore,” he recalls. “My mind can’t go anymore. I wasn’t enjoying the game. I didn’t feel like I had any drive or ambition to get better. My body was winding down.”
All at once, he lost his drive. He started crying uncontrollably because that’s what anyone does after losing anything they’ve loved since fourth grade.
Davis figured he’d play out the string this season and then honor his two-year contract by trudging through 2017. Then, without question, he’d quit.
When he finally entered his home and informed his wife of his decision, she was stunned. “What?” Tamela asked. She advised he pray on it. So, Demario headed inside the couple’s prayer closet — a shoe closet-sized room — and sat down on the chair. Then he prayed and cried all over again.
The feeling was one of complete surrender. He told God that he didn’t have anything left.
“I knew he had more for me to do,” Davis says. “But I didn’t have the physical strength or the mental strength to pursue it. So, ‘OK, God. If you want me to go far, you’ll have to rejuvenate my mind and you’ll have to rejuvenate my body.’ It was like right in that moment, I heard him say, ‘Thank you for getting out of my way. Now, I can work. You waved the white flag and surrendered. I have it from here.’ Here we are. Six years later.”
By the time OTAs and minicamp rolled around the spring of 2017, Davis felt like a new man. Totally rejuvenated from mind to body to soul.
Such a “fresh revelation” isn’t what we think — the clouds don’t split open to reveal Heaven’s gates. Rather, he’d read scriptures and prophets and apply it to his own day-to-day life with an open mind. Davis started to see revelations daily through the various ways he’d take care of his body. He started treating his body like a car, like the picture we all see at Daytona at a pit stop.
“My mind is the driver but my body is the vehicle,” Davis says. “So, I started to look up different people who could work on my body around the clock.”
He now gets body work done six days per week. Every nick, every scrape is accounted for with medical pros cycling in and out of this home. After practice, he’s usually getting an IV or a massage or Graston, the scraping of scar tissue off the muscle. A metal device glides over the skin to flesh out his muscles and rid his body of knots. Davis even started doing jiu jitsu training, soon adopting the full “jiu jitsu lifestyle” right down to the diet and mindset. He has endured his share of severe pain. Plantar fasciitis and tendinitis were not fun. Yet nothing’s been debilitating. He hasn’t missed a game in the 5 1/2 years since this awakening.
He started studying film in new ways. He learned all about the importance of sleep.
He decided to train like a defensive back, instead of a linebacker because the sport was rapidly evolving into a space game. To completely rewire his quick-twitch muscles, Davis started lifting weights in a completely new way.
That 2017 offseason, Davis was a man possessed. The team’s new coordinator, Gregg Williams, was blown away and anointed Davis the undisputed leader of the Browns defense. Yet after an extraordinary string of practices through OTAs and minicamp, Davis was traded back to the team that drafted him — the New York Jets — for safety Calvin Pryor. Williams was pissed. As he left the building, Davis could hear Williams flipping a table inside his office. The bombastic coach could not fathom how the Browns just gave away a talent like this.
Davis? He probably could’ve flipped a dozen tables.
In a matter of seven months, he had transformed himself from a man ready to quit the sport into a beast set to take over the sport. He knew he’d have full range to dominate in this scheme. This year was his year. Now, he was getting shipped back to New Jersey, back to the team that drafted him, for a bust of a first-round pick. It’s not like Bill Belichick was doing the honors. This was one of the worst teams in sports history saying he had no place here, an abomination of an organization that went 1-31 in back-to-back seasons.
On to New York, Davis wasn’t even penciled in as a starter.
He climbed into his car and had another conversation with God.
Why? Why? Why would you let me get on this high only to go through this?
Once again, he heard that “audible voice.” God told Demario that even though this felt like he was being “demoted,” he was actually being “promoted.” Davis chose to believe those words were the truth. He called his wife to deliver the news and, by the time Demario was home, she had a quarter of their house already boxed up. Tamela was on the phone with realtors in New York.
Off to the Jets he went.
Back to that scar. The only way to understand why Demario Davis is such a spiritual force today is to relive his own childhood.
Unlike these five kids darting around his home to the backdrop of “Sing 2,” he did not have a present father. When he was born, Mom was 16 and Dad was 18. “So,” he admits, “they had a lot of navigating.” Demario stayed with his grandmother while his mother finished school. Dad? He was in and out. One of those relationships you see on TV, he says. “A telephone relationship,” with minimal substance, guidance, love. Considering his father was such a dominant figure, there were life lessons to absorb when he was around. Unfortunately, that was rare.
Every other holiday. If that.
Demario and Dad didn’t develop a significant relationship until he made it to the NFL.
“A kid needs his dad around,” Davis says. “You develop a lot of insecurities when your Dad isn’t around. You need a man around to tell you it’s OK to be yourself. You don’t have to be like all these other things.”
Instead, Davis was like all of his peers in Brandon, Mississippi. No male figure was present to open his eyes to a different path. Granted, he grew up in church. Grandma made sure of that. Yet, any relationship with God was abstract. Nothing too profound was happening in his life, thus there was no reason for a conversation to even take place. In school, he was a knucklehead. Always fighting, always suspended. Davis was finally expelled in 10th grade for trying to steal a student’s wallet. His grades were strong — Mom kept him in the books — but Demario was no different than the other hooligans running the streets.
Initially, the principal wanted to expel him until 12th grade, which would’ve killed his football career. Instead, Davis spent the rest of that 10th grade year in an alternative school, was re-admitted as a junior and, no, he has never forgotten the act of mercy.
This was a teenager in desperate need of a wake-up call because — at this point — Davis had also become dangerously numb to his surroundings.
He could’ve died. Several times, in fact. Shootouts were common at parties. At least “four or five” times he needed to literally sprint to safety. He’s had a gun pulled on him.
“When you look at these communities, that type of lifestyle is celebrated and glorified,” Davis explains. “It’s all about being the baddest person. Never backing down. Not being weak. Not being lame. That’s what they glorify. So, they glorify gang activity. They glorify the selling of drugs. They glorify objectifying women. That’s what they glorify and there’s nobody saying, ‘No. That’s not the standard.’ So every party you go to, there’s a bunch of weed smoking and a bunch of alcohol. Everybody’s walking around with a gun on them because they feel like if something happens, they’ll have their weapon ready. When you have that type of environment, it only takes a little bit of tension in the air.”
Everyone at the party realizes this is a hairpin-trigger environment, too. One tinge of anger, one speck of retaliation and someone may die.
The minute a fight starts, everybody runs.
“Because they know the next thing to come is gunshots. It’s not like it’s going to be a fight and it’ll be over. There’s going to be fighting and there’s going to be gunshots. So as soon as you see a fight that’s not your people, you better leave. Because you might catch a stray bullet.”
The next morning, you’ll hear that someone died. Perhaps a friend who had nothing to do with the altercation.
“Sometimes,” Davis adds, “it’s not stray bullets. It’s the intended target.”
He pauses for a chilling three seconds. Seeing bullets take lives never forced Davis to change how he was living. He was numb to all the shootouts, all death.
Then, his arm sliced open. Then, his life changed.
Not long after getting expelled, Davis was partaking in his friends’ favorite pastime: breaking into abandoned buildings. They weren’t a gang, per se, rather a bunch of kids up to no good. And at this particular house, Davis did the honors. He balled up a fist and mindlessly punched a hole directly through a window. Upon entering, a flash of light shined on his arm and he realized he had cut himself. Davis hustled over to the nearest sink to put his arm under some running water.
“And the water,” he says, “went down to my bone.”
The feeling still makes his face cringe in horror. He could feel the pain head to feet.
Realizing this was now a serious matter, he bolted. He sprinted the half-mile home — fading in and out of consciousness along the way — and stormed into the bathroom. His first instinct? To stitch himself together. “To pull a Rambo,” he jokes. It was 2 a.m. and the last thing Davis wanted to do was wake Mom up to go to the hospital. Quickly, however, he wised up. He wrapped the arm tight in a towel and headed into his Mom’s bedroom.
Oddly enough, she was already awake. She had a feeling Demario was up to no good. Mom’s intuition and such.
They got to the hospital and that’s exactly when Davis chatted with God and learned how bad this could’ve been.
This incident did not change Davis overnight but it did serve as a critical turning point toward becoming the man he is today. As a junior and senior, he got all A’s and B’s — stayed out of trouble — and earned a scholarship to Arkansas State. Heading 300 miles away to the campus at Jonesboro, Ark., quite literally saved his life because it physically lifted him out of this toxic environment. He was “the same rugged kid.” His first year, Davis shoplifted at Wal-Mart and ended up in jail for three days literally one day after his coach gave the team a speech about not stealing. God spoke to him in that jail cell. This was Strike 3, after all, so Davis feared he’d be locked up a long time.
He was not — “that’s my grace,” the voice told him.
The coach easily could have kicked Davis off the team for direct insubordination. He did not.
Davis started spending 1-on-1 time with the team’s chaplain. A man who’d take Davis through Bible verses and ask him pointed questions nobody ever had before. Questions like, “If you were to die, would you go to heaven or hell?” It hit home. Nobody had ever been this blunt with Davis. Following a Christian conference, he says he finally surrendered.
He told God aloud, “My life is a wreck.”
“I let go and God swooped in,” Davis says. “All of a sudden, it started to make sense. All of these verses I heard about in the Bible, everybody knows Jesus died for our sins. But what does that mean? … It’s not about living this good life and looking and feeling righteous. It’s about having Jesus in your life, who can wipe out everything else. I started to understand that and — all of a sudden — it just radically changed my views and changed my perspective because my life was not about myself anymore. It was about this Jesus that everybody needs to know so they can be saved from this place. Over time, that was gradual. It was learning.
“It’s been a constant growth process. Even today, I’m still learning lessons of what that walk looks like.”
Because he’d be tested more.
So, there Demario Davis sat the spring of 2017.
The night before his first practice — around 11 p.m. (EST) — he received crushing news.
His father was in a car accident and had 14 broken bones. His mother was in the hospital — sobbing — and Davis knew he needed to wake up early in the AM for this next phase of his NFL career. He closed his eyes and heard God again: “He’s going to be alright,” the voice said. “He’s going to make a full recovery. That proved to be the case. There was no nerve damage. No spinal damage. No brain damage. All he injured were those bones and bones can heal. The driver who met him head-on died. He suffered a heart attack, swerved into Davis father’s lane and died. (Medics believe from the heart attack, not the crash.)
Rods and bandages patched Davis’ father back together and, in time, he learned to walk again. He recovered.
That’s the thing about God’s voice. Typically, Demario Davis hears it “in the midst of despair.”
“When everything is telling you it’s not going to be OK, it’s a hopeful voice. You trust it. You have faith in it. You say, ‘You know what? I’m going to choose to believe this.’”
From that 2017 season on, Davis’ football career has followed one upward trajectory. In ’17, he had 135 tackles and five sacks. He told friends he would’ve had 200-plus tackles in Cleveland. He then signed with the Saints and became an All-Pro. Not that he is out to stick it to any nonbelievers in Cleveland and New York who gave up on him. Rather, Davis plainly points out that those who made the decision to get rid of him were soon out of a job. He never wanted to throw it in their face. It naturally looks bad on them at this point.
This is such a key to letting go.
There’s power in vengeance, no doubt. Mike Ditka and Jeremy Shockey and Rob Gronkowski all thrived on making people pay, as detailed in “The Blood and Guts.” If Ray Nitschke clotheslined Ditka, dang right, Ditka blindsided him soon after. Shockey was fueled by Bob Stoops’ snub out of high school. Not to mention the time he barreled through Colts safety David Gibson after Gibson had the audacity to — gasp! — say Tony Gonzalez was a better player. The highest of highs Gronk felt on a football field was getting revenge on Sergio Brown. He tossed his nemesis “out of the club.”
Yet despite playing a position that’d lend itself to bloodthirsty revenge, Nitschke’s position, Davis finds staying power in stoicism.
He notes that the Bible says, “Vengeance is mine.” As in God’s hands. Not his.
Accepting this reality gives him peace.
“It’s much easier to try to take vengeance into our own hands. It’s an easier way. It’s emotionally challenging. My fallback is always — at the end of the day — ‘God, it’s in your hands. Not mine.’ In my own emotions, it’s never going to pan out good.”
This mindset is tested. Constantly. On the field, his Saints have endured historic postseason heartbreak.
The ultimate test for Davis then came in May 2020.
Right when Dad brings up the trauma his daughter faced, that same 3-year-old girl shuffles into the room and plops into his lap.
Carly-Faith was nine months old when Mom and Dad realized something could be wrong with her left eye. She had “a hazy glare.” Initially, they didn’t think anything of it because Tamela’s side of the family had all sorts of different colored eyes. They were in Nashville at the time, during the pandemic, and it took an excruciating 10 hours total from running tests to getting results.
The doctor informed them that Carly-Faith had cancer in her eye.
Not only that. She was fully blind in that eye and the best option was to remove it. ASAP.
“When you first hear that, it’s intense,” Davis says. “I was angry.”
He didn’t want to remove his baby girl’s eye. But after contacting his aunt who does cancer research at Emory University in Georgia, he discovered this was the second-best doctor in the country when it came Carly-Faith’s ailment: retinoblastoma. Their doctor was the leading researcher in this space. They could trust whatever he was saying.
Which is when Demario stopped asking God to work a miracle — to save her eye — and appreciated the existence of Carly-Faith alone as his miracle.
He started thinking of so many friends who can’t even have kids. This was a blessing. He realized other parents in this hospital wouldn’t be leaving with their children. Demario and Tamela prayed with their caregivers. The eye was removed, surgery was a success and Carly-Faith was given a prosthetic eye. Mom stayed in Nashville that 2020 season to the point of full remission with Dad traveling back and forth.
Now? Carly-Faith is cancer-free.
She loves ballet. She’s fearless. “She,” Davis says, “is just a boss.”
“She takes control of the household. Her sister is a couple years older than her. They’re playing and she does, ‘Daddy! She’s not listening to me!’ I’m like, ‘You should be listening to her.’ She’s just a boss. She has a bold personality. She’s definitely wise for her age. You wouldn’t think at 3 years old. She’s very conscious of everything going on around her at all times. She’s wise beyond her years. And all of the things that she’s been through, she’s never complained. You have kids who go through something like that and it kind of defeats them. But she’s never been like that.”
There’s a courage deep in her spirit.
Dad will never forget one hospital visit. Out of nowhere, Carly-Faith started singing Elton John’s classic, “I’m Still Standing,” from the first “Sing” movie, at the top of her lungs. It felt like she was singing directly at her sickness. Like she was telling the cancer itself, “You’re trying to attack me,” Dad explains, “but I’m still standing.” Since then, Carly-Faith has suffered two seizures unrelated to the cancer. Those also refuse to keep her down.
It’s been a full year since her most recent seizure. She’ll crush this, too.
All five kids have distinctive personalities. Their oldest, Bailey-Grace, is “a princess.” Their son, Roman-Parker, is a “scientific mind.” Their third child, Summer-Joy, is a “do-it-all natural talent.” Drawing. Singing. Piano. Sports. Doesn’t matter. She does it all. Their fourth, Carly-Faith, is bold. Their fifth, Stormy-Love, just broke onto the scene. Their goal is to create an environment that allows all personalities to flourish. Mom and Dad are always giving back through countless charities and initiatives but they never want to forget their No. 1 priority: Family.
There’s no clutter in their life. Even this home is unbelievably tidy considering, you know, there are five kids zigging and zagging all directions. The daily goal is to raise these kids — to “lead my home,” Dad says — in a way that is “reflective of the Word, not reflective of the world.”
The man of this household knows we live in a chaotic world. He wants to fight that chaos.
“You just turn on your phone and it’ll pull you in a direction,” Davis says. “You’re trying to stay strong and walk the walk that you’re called to lead.”
Good news for the Saints.
These five kids aren’t the only people taking his lead.
The Saint’s saint
After all this talk of child cancer and communicating with God, it feels foolish to even bring up football. The NFC South race? Preparing for Lamar Jackson? Right here on Demario Davis’ lap is a 3-year-old girl who visited doctors far more than any 3-year-old girl conceivably should. Her cuteness is out of control. Nor is she intimidated one bit by a total stranger with a unkempt beard in her living room. Seconds after popping off the couch to introduce herself, Carly-Faith starts singing a song from “Moana.”
“Moana! Make way! Make way!”
In that exact moment, a damn sport seems unbelievably small. Trivial.
But honestly? That’s the point. Many more fathers and sons and husbands in his Saints locker room — and around the entire NFL — have experienced similar trauma. Often worse. Last year, Saints wide receiver Deonte Hardy (previously “Harris”) nearly quit the sport after his girlfriend had a miscarriage. (He told all to Go Long.) This year, tight end Juwan Johnson and his wife lost two babies. He opened up to Go Long, too. (That story is coming later.) Players deal with a lot more than X’s and O’s through the course of an 18-week, meat-grinder of a schedule. Nobody has the option of detaching from society for weeks on end to rehabilitate their mind. There’s always an ultra-important game to win and, hey, wouldn’t you know? There’s another human missile sprinting your direction at maximum velocity with bad intentions because, it turns out, his livelihood is also at stake.
The good news for the New Orleans Saints is that they possess as close to an actual angel as you’ll find in the sport.
Demario Davis is the force of good who gives everyone a sense of clarity. He understands the man because the facemask — the sport’s mental health — in a way nobody else does. We see 22 players crashing in 22 different directions. We forget that all 22 have “a lot of shit” going on as the greatest player ever eloquently put. Football is the easy part. Football is an employee’s natural skill. You throw and catch and block and tackle. But life? “Life,” Davis emphasizes, “is hard.” That’s what he’s always thinking about at work because he knows a clear mind undoubtedly helps you shine on the field.
A few hours before this chat, Davis needed to speak up to a teammate who just didn’t get it. One player said something down the vague lines of, “If we win, that’s just what we do.” Davis was pissed. Davis spoke up. “No!” he said. “That’s not OK. We don’t get to take that mentality.” That’s where he believes a team messes up, when guys collectively throw their hands up and concede, Welp, that’s life! He has surrendered to a higher power, but surrendering doesn’t mean you kick your legs back and watch a movie of your own life. When Davis is patrolling at linebacker pre-snap, he tells himself he’s going to bust a play open.
He chooses to take over.
The same way, he explains, we should all take an active role in our own life and strive for perfection.
There is 100 percent crossover between life and football.
“Am I going to make a mistake? Yeah. Am I saying it’s OK to make a mistake? No,” Davis explains. “I’m sharpening that. It’s the same with life. We can’t be lazy at life as men and be strong on the field. That’s what I’m always trying to get to in conversation: ‘What’s your day-to-day like when you leave? What’s your relationship like with your significant other? What’s your relationship like with your kids?’ Just talking. And then confiding and talking with them.”
Davis shares all with them. His life isn’t nearly as sunshine and rainbows as teammates may think. He lets everyone in and the transparency becomes contagious. The Saints have the sort of conversations rarely ever had in such a testosterone-fueled world. The violence. The play-to-play car wrecks. There is no dimension like this in our universe. Davis is proof that a player can be both unapologetically vicious on the field and (extremely) vulnerable off it. The pros capable of striking this balance are the ones who, like Davis, last 11 seasons. And peak. And peak. Only peak.
Suddenly, it makes total sense why a 33-year-old linebacker is at the very top of his game and why nobody in their right mind should ever count the Saints out.
Fellow linebacker Pete Werner grew up a Colts fan in Indianapolis. He didn’t know much about Davis when the Saints selected him in the second round of the 2021 draft — but he learned. Fast. The energy was contagious. “He brings it,” Werner says, “every single day.” Nobody else was even close.
“He’s a guy you want to be around and a guy you don’t want to piss off,” says Werner, who leads the Saints in tackles (71) through eight games. “You want to go out and play well. You want to go out and compete for him because of all the work you see he does.
“He holds everybody to a high standard. Through all of the work that he puts in, you don’t want to put in less work than that because you don’t want to be the guy who doesn’t take advantage of the opportunity and might not take full advantage of every situation. You don’t want to be that guy. You know he’s going to give you his best so you have to give your best as well because he requires a lot out of everybody on this team.”
Faith drives his leadership. Werner agrees that it helps to lean into a higher power when there’s so much on the line every snap of every game. On top of this, he adds that football is unbelievably “complex.” Right when you think your gameplan is guaranteed to work… something goes haywire.
Werner is discovering that the mind is more important than anything else.
“You just have to continue to stay positive,” Werner says. “And I think positivity — having strong faith — is one of the biggest, most impactful things for a player. That can change a team, that positivity coming in every single day and knowing that my mentality can change everything. It can change the team. It can change you. People can learn from that. That’s what he does a very good job with. As a young player, I learn more and more that not a lot is physical — especially at this level. There’s tough people in this world. But it’s the mentality that’s going to put you first or last.”
Tamela has witnessed this growth in her husband firsthand. They first met in a medieval literature class at Arkansas State.
“I always said he was a man amongst boys,” Tamela adds, “and I’ve seen him develop over the years become a man’s man amongst men.”
Communicating so directly does not come natural to Davis. As an only child, he’s inclined to stay in his lane. Similar to how a standoffish Kobe Bryant was portrayed in the “Redeem Team” documentary. He actively fights against this impulse to engage with teammates. Faith, he insists, pushes him to step outside of this comfort zone.
It’s not only linebackers, either.
He reaches out to everyone. This is a calling.
“These guys need to know that you don’t have it all together,” Davis says. “You learn certain lessons that you can help them with, and be willing to talk to them about it because that’s the only place they may ever hear it. And the world needs men to be stronger. That was when I first came into faith — the locker room is my mission field. Because if you can reach the locker room, you’re reaching the men who can influence society. I was talking with my teammates and saying, ‘Our society is the way it is because men aren’t standing up and rising up.’ It’s a direct reflection of the men just saying, ‘I’m a man. So it is what it is.’ That will get you beat in a game. That type of mentality will get you beat.
“If you don’t allow yourself to get beat in a game, why would you allow yourself to get beat in society?”
Live with conviction and a box score takes care of itself.
Wins become a mere byproduct of a lifestyle.
Head coach Dennis Allen told his team that they’ve been here before. That’s partly true. As Davis points out, they haven’t experienced a start like this as one collective unit. Tyrann Mathieu. Chris Harris. Andy Dalton. Marcus Maye. Jarvis Landry. The roster is full of veterans who’ve seen it all on different teams across the country. Now, they’ll need a guiding light for this moment, this season and Demario Davis will gladly oblige. Despite what we see on our screens — 4.3 speed, 44-inch vertical leaps, biceps the size of oak trees — this sport is won most between the ears.
Those who find peace amid the chaos have the advantage and that’s what Davis has in high supply: Peace.
He’ll gladly share it with whoever would like to listen. His word will help the Saints in more ways than they know.
And, oh, one more thing.
Demario Davis has no plans to retire any time soon.
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