Tight end Vernon Davis does a pretty good Mike Singletary impersonation.
He should be good at it. After all, he said those Singletary words – “I want winners!” -- directed at Davis during a midseason game in 2008 have stuck with him through his entire NFL career.
In Singletary’s first game as interim coach after taking over for fired Mike Nolan, Davis was flagged for unnecessary roughness when he retaliated to some trash talk with a shove to the facemask of Seattle defensive back Brian Russell.
When Singletary was not satisfied with Davis’ reaction to a chewing out, Singletary ordered the third-year player off the sideline and into the locker room at the end of the third quarter. After the game, Singletary’s press conference was dominated by his blistering words aimed at Davis.
Those words stick with Davis even today – as a 12th-year NFL player who ranks No. 10 all-time in receiving yards among tight ends.
“It never leaves. It’s always there. It’s always around,” Davis said. “It permeates throughout the years. It’s there. I first heard it after that game. I went home and sat on the couch and turned the TV on. And there he was, coach Singletary. . .”
Davis, a special guest on The 49ers Insider Podcast, then gave a brief impersonation of Singletary’s rant.
“I know it like the back of my hand,” Davis laughed. “I was sitting there. How could he do that? That’s horrible. I can’t believe he would do that. I was so frustrated. I was livid. I just couldn’t take it. He just threw me under the bus. That’s awful.”
But it did not take Davis long to understand that he had to change his ways, he said.
“That was the moment that turned everything around,” Davis said. “Once I saw that, I was like, ‘Wow, this guy is really serious.’ There’s nothing I can do. This guy right here, he’s just tough. I can’t beat him. So I just have to straighten myself up, and that’s what I did. I straightened myself up and did everything he asked me to do. I became a different person.”
Davis was a key member of three consecutive 49ers teams that reached the NFC Championship under coach Jim Harbaugh. He twice recorded 13-touchdown seasons with the 49ers. He ranks fourth all-time in 49ers history with 55 touchdown receptions – behind only Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens and Gene Washington.
Davis is in his second season with Washington – his hometown team. On Wednesday, Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins described Davis as a "team-first" player who can still "bring the juice." Davis showed a glimpse of the elite speed he had as a youngster when he broke free for a 69-yard reception against Kansas City recently on Monday Night Football.
On Sunday, Davis will face his former team for the first time in his career. Davis, who won a Super Bowl ring after being sent to the Denver Broncos in a 2015 mid-season trade, said he still wonders if he might have a Super Bowl ring with the 49ers if Harbaugh had not made the switch at quarterback in 2012 from Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick.
“You know what, I think about that sometimes,” Davis said. “And I think about what if Alex had stayed in the starting role. What if he had that role? Would it have been a situation where we would’ve won the Super Bowl? I don’t know.
“That’s just a question that will always linger. Everyone wants to know. What if? What if? At the end of the day, what is written is written. Kaepernick had a shot and he did really well. He didn’t do anything wrong. The game just didn’t go in our favor. We didn’t win it. There’s always going to be what-ifs.”
Kaepernick played very well in the second half of the season and into the playoffs. The 49ers fell short in Super Bowl XLVII, losing to the Baltimore Ravens 34-31. Kaepernick threw for 302 yards, and Davis had six receptions for 104 yards.