By Taylor Short
The Cove Herald
GATESVILLE - Cotton Davidson tends to his 1,200 acres of ranch land every day atop a hill in Gatesville, beginning his morning before the sun does.
He doesn't have cows or sheep anymore - just a friendly donkey that greets guests on the driveway - and spends time at home spraying weeds, cedar and cactus.
As a former NFL first-round draft pick and AFL All-Star game most valuable player, Davidson's low-key lifestyle and humility are in stark contrast to the celebrity status of modern sports superstars - this attitude a byproduct of growing up and living American football in a more modest time.
"The big dollars they're making now, I guess you'd want to say they're a little bit spoiled," he said with a smirk. "I guess you'd almost say it's a different ballgame."
While many walls of his home are adorned with framed photos of his large family, Davidson sat comfortably Tuesday morning in a back room of the house where the walls were lined with pictures of him in various team uniforms, all emblazoned with the number 19.
Large glass cases occupy an entire corner of the room, with the polished metal trophies and rings glowing in the fluorescent light.
A large swath of Coryell County's landscape is visible from the window along with most of Gatesville. The county courthouse can be seen jutting out of downtown and a cluster of schools Davidson attended in the 1930s and 40s.
Back then, Gatesville was a very small farming and ranching community, he said. His father had a ranch ten miles north of town. Sports were always a part of Davidson's life, growing up chasing foul balls during his father's country baseball games every Sunday.
By seventh grade, Davidson began playing quarterback for the first organized football league that was available.
"I love football and baseball and basketball. I think it was just the sport of it; it was just a competitive game to play," he said. "The one that was in season was the one I loved the most."
His focus switched to football when he was offered a full scholarship to Baylor University in Waco, where he also played baseball and studied physical education.
Davidson stayed at Baylor for five years, having red-shirted his sophomore year. His unexpected break came after a successful performance during the college's East-West game.
"They have the NFL draft and of course, back then here in Gatesville, there was no TV and I didn't do a lot of reading the papers. I hadn't even seen a professional game, so I wasn't really familiar with pro football," he said.
Unlike today, when scouts can have their inboxes filled with prospective players or search YouTube for proactive talent, agents back then were extensive travelers. They scoured the South, where few professional football clubs were active at the time.
Davidson's gift as a quarterback drew their attention. He became a first-round pick in January 1954, which led to his first year as quarterback with what was then the Baltimore Colts.
"I was excited, but I really didn't know how excited I should have been because I really didn't know that much about pro football," he said. "I didn't know what to expect."
After missing some training with the Colts to play in the college All-Star game in Chicago, Davidson headed to Baltimore to punt for the team and got his first taste of the professional league.
"I had never been on the field in professional football until that night. It was just unbelievable and everything was really exciting to me," he said.
After his first season with the Colts, the second draft of his career came from the Army in 1955. He honed his skills as the All-Army Quarterback with the Fort Bliss Falcons before returning to Baltimore for the 1957 season and playing for the Dallas Texans in the American Football League until 1962.
When the Cowboys refused to play the Texans for fear of being beat by a younger team, Davidson instead beat them with his milking skills during Dairy Week and has the cow trophy to prove it.
Davidson completed his professional career in 1969 after playing with the Oakland Raiders for six years, including a trip to the second Super Bowl in 1968 - a high point in his life.
While the San Diego Chargers took home the Vince Lombardi trophy that year, Davidson and the Raiders had their epic win five years earlier.
"The first time we played San Diego, we scored 31 points in the last 11 minutes of the fourth quarter to win," he said, his face beaming. "San Diego was a really good ball team, but everything went our way - every fumble, every interception."
Davidson returned home to Coryell County and coached 22 years at Baylor. Today he prefers the peaceful life of ranching, following quarterback Peyton Manning and spending time with his wife of nearly 56 years, Carolyn, and their family of successful athletes and academics.
As he looked through his case of memorabilia, Davidson credited his high school coaches as the source of his discipline in the game and in life. It lasted long after he left Gatesville, existing in every item and in every photo with friends he made over the years.
"There's so many of those guys that haven't made it as long as I have," he said. "But it was really great and I just wouldn't take anything for it."
Contact Taylor Short at email@example.com or (254) 501-7476.