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. The cause of death was not mentioned.
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 he was traded to the Packers.
Davis remained with the Packers until finishing his NFL career in 1969 as a five-time All-Pro. Although tackles and sacks weren’t measured at the time Davis played, his 22 career fumble recoveries showcased his dominance and big-play ability.
Davis was voted to the NFL’s all-decade team for the 1960s and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1981.
“There were few players in the league who were as tough as Willie,” Packers Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr said in the foreword to Davis’ book, “Closing the Gap: Lombardi, the Packers Dynasty and the Pursuit of Excellence.“ “He was at his best in games in which we struggled. When it was tough, he rose to the top and took our defensive people right along with him.”
Davis helped the Packers win the NFL championship in 1965 before capping the 1966 and 1967 seasons with titles in the first two Super Bowls.
“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, “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 forced 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.
He also was on the Packers’ board of directors from 1994 to 2005.