- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 5, 2002

Is Washington Redskin Stephen Davis running down the franchise's immortals?
Davis sped past running backs Terry Allen and Earnest Byner earlier this season to move into third place for career yardage with 4,822. Mike Thomas, Cliff Battles, Don Bosseler, George Rogers and Charlie Harraway are distant memories.
With Davis likely finishing his third straight 1,300-yard season tomorrow against the Arizona Cardinals, the idea of surpassing Hall of Famer John Riggins and Larry Brown has become a possibility. Davis could catch Brown (5,875) by December, but it would take a contract renegotiation in 2003 for Davis to have a chance at Riggins (7,472).
Suddenly, the former fullback and reserve, who barely won the starting job over Skip Hicks in 1999, is among history's elite Redskins. Given that none ever ran for 1,000 yards in three straight years, Davis' 4,000-plus combined yards over 1999-2001 is the franchise's best. He needs only 122 yards against the Cardinals to break the Redskins' single-season record (1,405) for the second time.
Still, any comparisons to Riggins (1976-79, '81-85) are short of blasphemy. After all, Riggins led Washington to Super Bowl XVII and the poster of his fourth-quarter touchdown run over clinging Miami cornerback Don McNeal still hangs in many area homes. The Hall of Famer was controversial, comical, sassy and sexy with the moxie to match his mouth. Along with quarterback Sonny Jurgensen and cornerback Darrell Green, "Riggo" is one of the franchise's most beloved players.
Davis is chipping away at Brown's long-time status as the team's No. 2 rusher. Many contemporaries believe Brown also should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, however, his short eight-year career (1969-76) undermines his chances.
Brown was a 1970s version of Dallas running back Emmitt Smith a darting runner unafraid of taking on defenders. Brown overcame a hearing disability as well as coach Vince Lombardi's ire, which included carrying the ball he fumbled in practice to the showers, dinner and bed. He finished the 1970 season with 1,125 yards, remember those were 14-game seasons. He also topped the NFC in 1972 with 1,216 despite being held out of the last two games with an injury in order to ready for the playoffs in which the Redskins advanced to Super Bowl VII.
Legends require victories, so Brown has an edge over Davis. Brown played in four Pro Bowls and one Super Bowl as part of the "Over the Hill Gang." Davis has one Pro Bowl and one playoff win in six seasons.
The debate over Brown or Davis extends to the broadcast booth. Jurgensen played with Brown during most of the latter's career while former linebacker Sam Huff spent the first season with him. The Redskins broadcasters and Hall of Famers differ on who's better. Huff takes Davis and Jurgensen chooses Brown. Huff nicknamed Riggins "the Diesel" and now he wants to call Davis "the Big Train" for running like a locomotive.
"Stephen is the best back after John Riggins I have ever seen in Washington," Huff said. "Both of them are just great fullbacks [at heart]. They're very much alike They run over people. They're both fast, big and have a good line to run behind. Riggo ran behind the Hogs. Stephen hasn't had the same line two years in a row, but still makes the best of it. Larry wasn't as big as those guys. He doesn't have the stats that they have, but he was a tremendous running back. He had an awful lot of heart. Ninety percent of him was heart and attitude."
Said Jurgensen: "Nothing against Stephen. It has nothing to do with yards. Larry was so intense. He was a great back. Stephen is so dependable. He pounds and pounds and pounds."
Brown's case also is tentatively backed by Hall of Fame flanker Bobby Mitchell, who preceded Brown as the Redskins' offensive menace. However, Mitchell said Davis may surpass Brown's status in time.
"Stephen's going to be able to get the yards because he has the better line, the better team," Mitchell said. "Larry did his with much less. For those of us who saw Larry punishing himself five straight years to keep us [competitive], you don't forget that. If it was third-and-6, he'd dive to get it."
Even Brown and Davis can't settle the debate. Now a Landover businessman, Brown watches Davis regularly and can only dream of what he might have done behind a better offensive line and two more games annually.
"A couple more games and the size of linemen, I would have gained substantially more yards," Brown said. "Stephen certainly ranks among the top of the list based on his accomplishments. He's bigger, stronger, runs through tackles. He's good with the stiff arm."
Brown is just a hurdle to Davis, who really seeks Riggins' title. If the Redskins can rework his contract in 2003 that would drop his salary cap number from an unworkable $11.4 million, Davis can remain a lifetime Redskin and depart with the crown.
"I want to have something that people will say 'That guy played hard every time he went out on the field,'" Davis said. "I think I'm up there, but I have a lot of my career left. Hopefully, I can leave the No.1 guy. The yardage doesn't matter. It's the person that matters what type of person you are on and off the field."


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