Bryan Strickland Senior Writer
Charlotte, NC – History suggests that Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis faces an uphill battle to win the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Davis is believed to be the only NFL player to ever successfully return from three torn anterior cruciate ligaments in the same knee. Davis suffered his first major injury in Week 9 of the 2009 season, injured it again the next summer, then returned to action briefly before injuring it yet again in Week 2 of the 2011 season.
He’s battled back to play in all but one game this season, and he’s played amazing football. His 94 tackles rank second on the team.
Despite Davis’ beyond-belief comeback, some still believe the race is a two-player affair between Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.
Manning missed the 2011 season due to multiple neck surgeries but has played MVP-caliber football in his first year with the Broncos, tossing 30 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. Peterson suffered a brutal knee injury at the end of last season that put his status for this year in doubt, but he now has an outside chance of breaking the NFL’s single-season rushing record.
Manning and Peterson certainly are deserving of consideration, and they have a lot going for them at the ballot box. The winner historically has been someone who puts up eye-popping statistics the year after a serious injury. That was the case with Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith in 2005, when he came back from a broken leg in the 2004 season opener to lead the NFL in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.
Smith shared the award that year with New England Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi, who played the second half of the season after suffering a stroke and being diagnosed with a heart defect in the offseason. Smith was undoubtedly deserving that year, but the fact that he managed to split the vote with Bruschi –who had possibly the most heavily covered comeback in NFL history – speaks to the slant of the award toward offensive players.
Of the 42 winners of the award, just five played defense. Quarterbacks have accounted for exactly half the awards, including the last four.
Davis could be a longshot, but he’d be a shoe-in if there was a lifetime achievement version of the award. Many an athlete in his shoes would have decided that enough was enough after the third injury, and Davis did briefly consider calling it quits.
We’re all thankful he didn’t.