GATESVILLE — Coryell County native Francis Marion “Cotton” Davidson was a standout football player in high school, college, and the pros, and on Saturday the soon-to-be 90-year-old Hall of Famer was star of the show at a book signing event for his memoir, “Cotton Davidson: The Rifleman of the American Football League.”
Friends, neighbors, family members, and fans lined up on the second floor of the Coryell County Museum and Historical Center in downtown Gatesville as soon as the doors opened to buy an early release copy of the book and get an autograph on “Cotton Davidson Day” as declared by mayoral proclamation.
One of those was former Gatesville High School football coach Steve Howard (defensive coordinator 1991-2007), who said he wanted to pay respects and thank Davidson again for helping out when he was coaching the Hornets team.
“His land backs up to my in-law’s place, so I’ve known Cotton since 1988,” Howard said. “He was coaching at Baylor when we moved here. When I started coaching here, he was a great resource for us. He did a passing camp for our kids when he was 80 years old, and he could still throw a football. It was amazing to watch.”
Davidson, who turns 90 on Tuesday, is a member of the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame and Southwest Conference Hall of Fame. As a two-time all-district tailback at Gatesville High, he led the Hornets to a 6-1-1 record in 1948, and in his senior year made all-district in four sports and twice advanced to the state track meet in the low hurdles.
His exploits earned him a football scholarship at Baylor University in Waco, where he enjoyed a stellar career and became the first Bears quarterback ever selected in the first round of the NFL draft when he was taken as the fifth pick overall by the Baltimore Colts in 1954.
After that rookie season, Uncle Sam came calling and Davidson served two years and played football in the military, and was named All-Army quarterback in 1955. He resumed his professional career after being discharged in 1957 and went on to play for the Dallas Texans (now the Kansas City Chiefs franchise) and then the Oakland Raiders. Also an accomplished punter and placekicker, he was chosen to play in the American Football League all-star game in 1961 and 1963.
The AFL operated for 10 seasons from 1960-70, when it merged with the NFL and became the American Football Conference.
What is now known as the Super Bowl originated as a championship game between teams from the AFL and NFL. The first AFL-NFL World Championship Game was played Jan. 15, 1967, at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where the Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10.
Meanwhile, one of Davidson’s many career highlights came on Dec. 8, 1963, when the Raiders were playing the San Diego Chargers and trailing 27-10 at halftime. Davidson came off the bench to start the second half at quarterback and led the offense to score 31 points in the last 12 minutes of the game, giving Oakland a 41-27 win.
Shoulder injuries forced him to retire in 1968, when he did some pro scouting, then came back to Central Texas to coach at Baylor. During his 21-year tenure as an assistant coach, the Bears won two Southwest Conference championships and played in 20 postseason bowl games.
Davidson said he is excited about his book, which was co-authored by Wayland Corgill and published by the Texas Book Publishers Association. It is scheduled to be released publicly in March, and is available now for pre-orders on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and at https://www.theriflemanbook.com/.
“This is the only book I’ve ever put together,” Davidson said as well-wishers surrounded him, vying for his attention. “It turned out OK, I think. I like it.
“I can’t complain about my football career, that’s for sure. I always wanted to do the best I could with what I had, and things turned out pretty good.”