Broken arm? Panthers' LB Thomas Davis has had worse
CHARLOTTE, N.C. >> Thomas Davis knows all about pain and toughness.
So excuse the Panthers All-Pro linebacker if he snickers at the notion that 12 screws and a plate in his broken right forearm is about to keep him from the biggest game of his career.
"I'm still looking forward to playing on Super Bowl Sunday," he says with a wide, knowing grin.
Davis has overcome too much, and at 32 come too far to even think about missing this one.
He is the first known NFL player to battle back and play after tearing the same ACL three times. It's even more remarkable considering he has returned to play at an All-Pro level after his third surgery in 2011.
Now, in a cruel piece of irony, the man who has waited 11 seasons to play in a Super Bowl breaks his arm in the NFC championship game, giving him only two weeks to recover. The injury came in the second quarter of a 49-15 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.
"I was devastated for him at the time," Carolina defensive tackle Dwan Edwards. "The guy has been through a lot and is the heart and soul of our team. He's our emotional leader, our playmaker on the field."
Given what Davis has been through, teammates aren't surprised that he intends to face the Denver Broncos on Feb. 7 in Santa Clara, California.
"Knowing Thomas, he is used to overcoming obstacles," safety Tre Boston said. "Hey, give me 12 screws and a plate in my arm and I'm not playing for a month. But nothing can hold back that guy."
"I'm no doubting Thomas," cracked coach Ron Rivera.
Davis' three knee injuries cut short his seasons in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Still, he is as fast as ever and seems to be getting better each season. He turned in perhaps his best season in 2015, with 105 tackles and career highs in sacks (5.5), forced fumbles (four) and interceptions (four).
And while he was going through hundreds upon hundreds of grueling leg raises, squats and stretches to rebuild his knee, Davis at times did contemplate retirement. But, mostly, those were fleeting thoughts. In the back of his mind was the Super Bowl.
"I never really look at it from a personal standpoint," he said. "It's great for this team to be in this position. We've worked so hard all season long to accomplish this goal and put ourselves in this position to possibly win the Super Bowl, so it's great to be in this position as a football team and I'm just happy to be a part of it."
Such an attitude epitomizes Davis. To a man, teammates talk about the time, pain and sweat it took for him to come back from a severe knee injury. Not once, not twice, but three times. They say it's difficult for the average fan to comprehend.
Broncos Pro Bowl linebacker Von Miller knows something about this — he had ACL surgery in 2014.
"I only got one (and) it was hard to come back," Miller said. "So with (three) I can't even imagine all the hard work that goes into him getting back on the field. So I think that speaks volumes to the type of person that he is. ... He's going to be there. If he has a little bit of energy, he's going to be there ready to play."
Davis won last year's Walter Payton Man of the Year award for his community work. A first-round draft pick from Georgia, he has played all 11 seasons in Carolina, sticking with the Panthers through good times and bad. He's become a local sports legend by overcoming the longest odds. It has the makings of a Hollywood movie.
Now, says teammate Luke Kuechly, all that's missing is the ending.
"We're doing everything we can to get him a (Super Bowl) ring," Kuechly said. "I think that would be awesome. He deserves it."
AP Sports Writer Arnie Stapleton in Denver contributed to this report
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