When the San Francisco 49ers drafted tight end, Vernon Davis, with the sixth overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, the hopes were that he would develop into one of the best pass-catchers in team history.
Although it took some time, Davis developed into a Pro Bowler and was a huge part of the 49ers successful run under head coach, Jim Harbaugh.
Davis complied 441 receptions for 5,446 yards and 55 touchdowns over 9.5 seasons with the Niners, before moving on to win a Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos and then finishing up his career with the Washington Redskins.
Now, the 36-year-old is working on his second career as an actor, including his upcoming film titled Red Winter, where he played the lead role. Davis also launched two production companies and is heavily involved with the Vernon Davis Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping children and young adults in the community.
I caught up with Davis from his home in McLean, Virginia, to reflect on his time in San Francisco, his post-career acting aspirations, and how he is keeping busy during self-isolation.
Niners Nation: The 49ers drafted you in 2006. What were your expectations coming in as a rookie?
Davis: I wanted to be one of the best players to ever play in the NFL. When I arrived, that was my only objective. To be able to do that, I knew I had to put in a lot of work.
The 49ers never finished better than 8-8 during your first five seasons under Mike Nolan and then Mike Singletary, why do you think the team struggled?
Every unit can be the best, have Pro Bowlers, but if the synergy isn’t there and you don’t have the proper coaching, chances are that you’re not going to win games. The timing and the fit wasn’t right for us. Maybe we needed more from a coaching standpoint, or maybe we needed more pieces as a unit.
What was the biggest difference between when Jim Harbaugh took over as head coach and your first four years?
I think Harbaugh changed up the culture and the way we approached the game as a team. That’s what you’ll see throughout history of sports; sometimes it takes that. That’s what it took for us. A culture change in the way we approached the game. Not saying that coach Singletary and the rest of the group did a horrible job, they did a great job. But certain players and certain teams respond differently to certain coaches. That’s what happened to us; once Harbaugh came in, we were able to grow and transcend and play together. The synergy was there for us to be a championship team. We catapulted, and it all started to happen for us.
You had seven catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns against the Saints in the 2011 Divisional Round against the Saints. You had the game-winning score with :09 seconds left and became very emotional on the field. Why did everything spill out at that moment?
It was always my dream to be a professional athlete. The struggles and difficulties I had along the way, losing games and as a player coming into the league, not living up to my expectations right away. All of that was built up in me, and once I made that play and that catch, I couldn’t help but let those tears out. We were down, everyone thought the game was over, but we just kept fighting and fighting, plugging away and playing together. To be able to come back and win that game, make that game-winning catch, to me, that right there, I couldn’t help but let it out. I couldn’t keep it in. Those were tears of joy. All of the work, all of the dedication, and the moments where we just couldn’t succeed as a team. I went from falling to getting back up. That’s what that was.
Who were some of your favorite teammates from those Niners teams?
Man, everyone on those teams is my favorites. I have so many guys that I really connected with. There wasn’t a bad player on those teams. I vividly remember so many great times with those teams; I wish I could go back in time and bring back those memories. Even just have a moment where we bring all the guys back together and go out and have some fun and talk about the good old times of winning. Not just on the football field, but the times off the football field as well. That was tremendous; I wouldn’t trade any of that for the world.
What is one of your favorite Jim Harbaugh stories?
Jim came out to practice one time in full uniform! He came in and played quarterback against the second team. That was awesome. I have never seen anything like that. He was out there slinging the rock, that is something I will never forget. It will always be engrained in my memory.
Which team was the best out of the 2011, 2012, and 2013 Niners squads?
I want to say the team that we had when we lost against the Ravens in the Super Bowl. That was the best team out of those for sure.
You won Super Bowl 50 while playing with the Denver Broncos and the game was at the Levis Stadium, how did feel to win a championship?
It was an amazing feeling. It transpired in a way that I never imagined. I never imagined being traded and coming back to the city I played my whole career in and win the Super Bowl there. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments that you keep in your mind. You can see the expression on someone’s face when you mention winning the Super Bowl; you can just the see passion. Moments like that are few-and-far-between. I’ll carry that moment for the rest of my life.
Now that your playing days are over, you’re focusing on your acting career among other things, how did you get into acting?
Davis: When I was in San Francisco, I enrolled in a class at the Shelton Theatre of Art. It was an improv class, and from there I fell in love with the world of acting, I just felt like it was always in me because when I was in college, I studied art studio. Once you’re an artist, you can do anything. It all correlates in some kind of way; there’s synergy there when you’re an artist. Then I got my first role in a film, and from there I just kept going and going. Now, I’m finding myself reading scripts every day. I am looking at those, breaking them down and seeing if they make sense for me. I am getting auditions; I am indulging in it all.
You have a new movie slated to come out in the winter called Red Winter, where you’re playing the lead role. When you compare being to an NFL athlete, what are some of the things you learned on the field that helped prepare you for the movie?
Some of the moments I had on set were totally unexpected, like when I had to go into the set, and we started work at 9 p.m., and I didn’t get done until 8 a.m. Filming those long hours and getting done with my scene, going back and sitting down and waiting, that was tough. But, the platform of being an NFL athlete and going into meetings and long training camps, where you’re getting started at 7 a.m., and you won’t get done until 10 p.m., that was the preparation for acting. Football prepares you for anything and everything. If you can sit in a meeting a majority of the day, then go out to practice and come back to meetings, that prepares you. As an athlete, you have to be grateful for those moments because you’re being tested, you’re taking on a challenge, and you’re able to come out victorious. That’s what it is about. When I compare sports and acting, there are some similarities there because just like in acting, you have to go out there and put on your best performance, the preparation you do is all to be at your best when the lights go on, and those cameras get rolling. You’re working with your coach or director each day, each week, and you’re being given the tools to go out there and perform at your very best. If you do fail, you go back, watch yourself on film and go out there to be better next time.
You had a great NFL career; you work with kids through your non-profit organization, have your own production studio, and are now acting in movies. How do you feel when you reflect back on everything you have accomplished so far?
When I was a kid, I always had dreams and aspirations of doing great things. The first dream was being a professional athlete. In life, you go with what you feel is right. You set goals as a starting point. Even if you’re not involved with something right now that you want to pursue, just go out and do it. What happens is that the course that you’re on will take you to different places, and then from there, you’ll keep finding yourself on different paths. Go with it, hope for the best and then prepare for change. Life is all about the unexpected, just be ready to take on whatever comes your way, and you’ll find yourself in places you never imagined. Life is supposed to be that way and transpire in ways you never expected. That’s just life, it’s curveballs, and you stand tall, and you fight to be the best you can possibly be.
How have you been dealing with the quarantine, and what are you doing to keep yourself busy?
I have been working out and trying to keep my routine. Wake up, hit the gym, and get some breakfast, depending on which diet I am on at the time since I try to change it up often. I keep that routine, and I’ll have auditions some days where I will have to record on my phone. I am still memorizing some scripts and doing interviews like I am with you now. Every day has been different, and I am still dealing with my investment properties and always looking at different ventures, like my new company Between the Lines Productions. With that company, we are shooting a new movie called A Message From Brianna, which is a horror film, and we are casting that once all of this coronavirus stuff is over. I am just taking it one day at a time.