**Originally posted on Examiner.com
When Vernon Davis returned to the sideline after his game-winning 14-yard touchdown catch to beat the Saints on Saturday, tears flowed from his eyes. A burden had been lifted from the battle-tested warrior. He, along with so many players on the team, had endured years of disappointment and frustration and now they had finally erased all those demons.
For Davis particularly, he had become the hero, the goat, and back to hero through his entire roller coaster NFL career. And that heroic moment Saturday afternoon might never have happened had it not been for former head coach Mike Singletary.
“Just Singletary. Having him around. He taught me a lot,” Davis told KNBR radio on Monday. “I actually learned a lot from coach Singletary.”
Everybody remembers Singletary’s first game as a head coach back in October 2008. After Davis was flagged for taunting, Singletary banished the tight end and sent him to the locker room. When asked why, Singletary went on a rant on how he didn’t want selfish players on the team.
“I want winners!” Singletary boasted.”I want people that want to win!”
Up to that point, Davis was a very talented tight end that had little guidance of what it took to be a real winner. He had gotten into scuffles during training camp practices in the past and then head coach Mike Nolan never stepped in to stop it. So when Singletary became the interim head coach, Davis’ attitude carried over and Singletary didn’t want any of it.
Despite Singletary’s unsuccessful coaching tenure in San Francisco, he was able to mold Davis into what he envisioned in him — a team leader.
In Singletary’s first full season as a head coach, he named Davis as a team captain. Singletary believed that Davis could become that type of leader for the 49ers. And in that 2009 season, Davis set a then NFL tight end record 13 touchdown catches. The following year, Davis and Singletary were paired up as ambassadors to the league’s annual International Game in London.
Even though the 49ers continued to struggle under Singletary’s coaching, Davis remained as a student of the coach’s philosophy. He just didn’t know it at the time and none of it translated into wins.
It’s similar to a classroom in which the teacher intentionally singles out one student in the class to push harder than the rest of the students. Every day, that teacher continues to demand more from that one student. The teacher sees the potential while the student feels that they are being singled out for the wrong reasons.
After Singletary was fired, that was Davis’ student-like mindset. Davis didn’t realize how much of an impact Singletary made on him. He even publicly admitted that he didn’t miss his former coach and seemed relieved that his teacher didn’t have to push him to his limits anymore.
“I don’t miss Singletary,” Davis said candidly in public. Three days earlier, the 49ers hired Jim Harbaugh to become the new head coach. Davis was happy that he had a new teacher.
It wasn’t until a year after that statement did Davis get to reflect and realize what Singletary was doing all along. What Singletary did was prepare Davis for a great moment like that on Saturday.
Since Singletary’s first game with the 49ers, Davis had transformed into a better teammate and a better person. This season, Davis attended every practice, lifted up teammates and continued to work on his craft as a football player.
That all may not have happened had Singletary not given him a reality check by sending him to the locker room back in 2008. And that game-winning 14-yard touchdown catch might have only still remained as an unattainable dream.
Credit should be given to current head coach Jim Harbaugh for what the team has accomplished now. But that seed in Davis was planted by Singletary.
When asked about Singletary’s impact in his career, Davis reflected on his journey and understood what his former coach wanted out of him.
“I’m glad he was aboard from the start because I learned so much from him,” Davis said on KNBR. “And not just about football, but about life, about team, being a part of a team, and I take my hat off to him. I learned so much from him.”
When Davis was drafted in 2006, he shed tears of joy as he was about to embark on a journey into the NFL. This past Saturday, those tears became the culmination of all the wrong turns, detours he endured to get to that one moment in time. And along the way, Davis was grateful that Singletary was the one man that pushed him to get there.