By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — He’ll be honored Saturday night for his feats on the football field at the University of Virginia, but Bob Davis holds another distinction at his alma mater.
The guy who scored the final point in the final UVa basketball game played at Memorial Gymnasium?
On Feb. 27, 1965, he hit 1 of 2 free throws with 14 seconds left to give Virginia a 69-67 lead over Clemson. The Tigers missed at the other end, and the game ended with the score unchanged at Mem Gym.
After his sophomore season of football ended, Davis had joined the hoops team at the request of coach Bill Gibson. But Davis’ college career in that sport was short-lived. He finished the 1964-65 season with the team, earning a letter in the process, and then decided to focus on football, in which he was on scholarship.
“You had to go to class at UVa, and classes were hard,” Davis recalled by phone from New Jersey, where he’s president and chief executive officer of Rumson-Fair Haven Bank and Trust.
“So playing the two sports was tough, especially basketball, because you had the travel. At least with football you knew you were going to be home for five games and away five games. And you were only gone Friday night [for a road game]. We didn’t travel that far.”
UVa hosts North Carolina in an ACC football game Saturday night at Scott Stadium. At halftime, Davis will become the 14th former Virginia player to have his jersey retired. His cheering section will include his wife of 44 years, Kit, and their three grandchildren.
Davis wore No. 12 in his three seasons with the Cavaliers — freshmen weren’t eligible for varsity sports then — and played for two head coaches: Bill Elias and then, in 1965 and ’66, George Blackburn.
A 6-2, 205-pound quarterback from Neptune, N.J., Davis set 13 school and nine ACC records during his UVa career. He still ranks 10th in career total offense at his alma mater.
“He was just an unbelievable athlete,” recalled Bob Butcher, a former president of the Virginia Student Aid Foundation (now the VAF) and longtime follower of UVa football.
“He’d be even better in today’s offense. He could run. He wasn’t the passer that [Matt] Schaub is, but in terms of being a pure athlete, he might have been the best we’ve had at quarterback.”
Davis said: “I wasn’t a very disciplined [quarterback], to be honest with you. My forte really was running. I had a good arm, and it was good enough to get me drafted in the pros, but I was more of a Roger Staubach quarterback. I would run, scramble. What hurt me was I tore my knee apart my last play of my last college game” — a 21-14 win over North Carolina on Nov. 26, 1966 — “and that really hurt later on in the pros, because I really couldn’t run anymore.
“It was horrible. I had four operations [on the knee], and after the third one, I was in a cast for 10 weeks, a cast from my groin down to my ankle, and my leg atrophied to the size of my arm. It was archaic. You think about those operations now, the guys are up walking the next day.”
Even at less than 100 percent, Davis played seven seasons in the NFL — three with the Oilers, three with the Jets and, finally, one with the Saints — before ending his pro career after two seasons in what he called “the ill-fated World Football League.”
“Back then in the pros, it was a lot different than it is now,” Davis said. “First place, we didn’t make any money. The second place, [an NFL team] only kept two quarterbacks.”
In 1969, his last season with Houston, Davis played well in a loss to the Jets, a performance that impressed their legendary coach, Weeb Ewbank.
In those days, the Jets occasionally practiced on Rikers Island, which happens to be the home of New York City’s main jail complex. Before signing Davis, Ewbank wanted to make sure the quarterback’s right arm was in good shape.
So, on Rikers Island, Davis threw to various receivers as about 5,000 inmates, who had been let out to watch the practice, critiqued his performance.
“If I threw a bad one, they booed,” Davis said. “If I threw a good one, they cheered.”
He appeared in only one game in 1970, his first season with the Jets, but after Joe Namath got hurt in ’71, Davis was activated. And after Namath’s backup, Al Woodall, struggled early that season, Davis took over as starting quarterback.
Davis later got hurt, clearing the way for Namath’s return to the lineup, but he finished 1971 with 10 touchdowns passing and 1 rushing.
Namath had a reputation as a wild man off the field, and he “did do a lot of stuff,” Davis said, “but he was always great to me. He was always great to my wife, my parents.”
Davis remembers a loss to the Dolphins, after which “Weeb was ranting and raving in the locker room.” Davis’ brother was in the locker room and “kind of bumped into Weeb, and Weeb was about to throw him out.”
Broadway Joe came to the rescue. He sat Davis’ brother down and managed to calm Ewbank down.
“If I had said he was with me, Weeb would have thrown him out,” Davis said with a laugh.
An economics major at the University, from which he graduated in 1967, Davis spent about seven years in the restaurant and insurance businesses after his football career ended.
“Then the opportunity came in the early ’80s to get into banking,” said Davis, and he proved to be a natural.
After about six months in the business, he was promoted to vice president, Davis said, “and I had to learn commercial lending and all of the stuff that you have to do. I did that, and then about 7½ years ago, I had an opportunity to become president of the bank. I’m 65 now. I’m enjoying what I’m doing and we’ve been successful, and it’s been a lot of fun.”
So was his experience at UVa, though “it was a much difference place than it is now,” Davis noted. The University was smaller then and wouldn’t go co-ed until 1970. Students wore coats and ties to class.
As a fourth-year student, Davis wed Kit, and he was one of four married players on the football team in 1966. The others included the late Jim Copeland, who later become athletics director at UVa.
Like Jim and Susan Copeland, Bob and Kit Davis lived in the Copeley Hill apartments, and “we thought that was heaven,” Bob Davis said with a chuckle.
“We had a one-bedroom apartment that was brand new, and it was fantastic. And we went back there about 10 years ago, and we could hardly find it” amid all the buildings that since have been constructed in that part of Grounds.
The record book shows that Davis led the Wahoos in passing as a sophomore in 1964 and as a senior in ’66. Tom Hodges was the leading passer in ’65.
“Tommy was a very good quarterback, a drop-back quarterback,” Davis said. “We were so thin in my junior year, and after we lost our first two games, I went to the coach and said, ‘Look, I think I can help the team better out now [at another position]. Tommy’s an excellent quarterback.’ ”
The ‘Hoos were short-handed at running back and at wideout that season. So Davis played both positions, depending on which formation UVa lined up in.
“I did that for, I guess, about six games, and then I think the last two games of the season I played quarterback,” Davis said. “Had a pretty good game and we beat Maryland [33-27 in College Park] at the end of that season.”
In 1966, Davis led the conference in total offense, with 1,688 yards, and became the first ‘Hoo to be named ACC football player of the year. He finished his college career with responsibility for 39 touchdowns, then an ACC record.
Davis’ teammates at UVa included Al Groh. Before this weekend, Davis’ most recent visit to Charlottesville had come in 2002, when he witnessed one of the highlights of Groh’s tenure as Virginia’s coach: a 48-13 rout of No. 18 Maryland.
“I’d never seen such a performance by Matt Schaub,” Davis said.
Like Bruce Springsteen, Davis lives in Rumson, N.J., not far from the shore. Davis’ grandchildren are nearby, one reason he doesn’t make it back to Charlottesville often. But he keeps in touch with such college friends as Louis Lerner and Larry Wood, and still has fond memories of his alma mater.
“It’s just a great place to go to school,” Davis said. “In a way, I would have loved to have been able to maybe even stay in Virginia. But the fact was that I was wound up with the Oilers. I was there for three years, and then I came back to New Jersey with the Jets.
“The opportunities didn’t lead to that, but Virginia is a great state. Charlottesville is a super place to go to school, to live. My parents would come to every game. It was just a tremendously enjoyable four years, and I’m looking forward to showing my grandchildren around.”