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LEFT WITH SMALLEST OF OPENINGS, TERRELL DAVIS BLASTED THROUGH.

Byline: KAREN CROUSE

Did you know Walter Mitty made it to this year's Super Bowl? He's ensconced at the Denver Broncos' team hotel in La Jolla, even though he grew up just down the road, in Lincoln Park.

He goes by the alias Terrell Davis and his credentials are as gaudy as the get-up worn by the Barrelman, a fan who greeted the Broncos' chartered flight Sunday afternoon wearing a bright orange barrel and matching boots.

Davis' biography in the Broncos' Super Bowl media guide divulges that he ran for 1,750 yards on 369 carries during the regular season on his way to the AFC rushing title and a starting berth in the Pro Bowl.

If he scores on a run against defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay on Sunday, he'll tie an NFL record for rushing touchdowns in the postseason with six. In his three seasons in the league, the Broncos are 20-3 when he rushes for at least 100 yards. Some people in Denver will tell you Davis is the Broncos' MVP, not John Elway.

But we aren't fooled. We can see right through Davis's dandy disguise.

Behind all his fancy feats afoot lies Everyman. If you saw him outside Qualcomm Stadium this week, you'd direct him to the NFL Experience, an interactive fair for fans, before you'd ask him for his autograph.

But since he entered the league in 1995, only one running back - Barry Sanders - has accumulated more yardage on the ground. Yet there have been days Davis has felt his mortality more acutely than the average fan. He is one of an estimated 23 million Americans who suffer from migraine headaches, which has been no small hurdle on his way to greatness.

Davis suffered his first attack at age 7 and wished he would die because the pain was so intense. He had to take himself out of two games as recently as 1996, when he suffered the blinding pain, blurred vision and nausea he has come to know too well after absorbing jarring hits. He hasn't had a migraine since switching his medication to Lidicaine.

Few people knew about Davis' condition when he was growing up. Not many people outside of his mother Kateree recognized his athletic potential.

The people who knew Davis then certainly didn't envision the day when he'd return to his hometown as the second-most dangerous weapon in the Broncos' arsenal after Elway's right throwing arm.

His high-school coach, Vic Player, has said he is astonished by Davis' success. So, undoubtedly, are the NFL front-office officials who selected 21 running backs and 195 players ahead of Davis in the 1995 draft.

Anybody who has ever been chilled to the bone by the winds of indifference has got to be warmed by Davis's success. How can you not cheer for a guy who managed to elude stardom in high school and college as surely as he now dodges some of the NFL's best defenders?

``You know, I really didn't have any success in college or high school,'' Davis said, ``so it amazes me that I'm at the highest level possible and I'm doing as well as I am.''

Davis isn't being modest, just honest.

At Lincoln Prep High, the same institution that produced Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Allen, he volunteered to play nose guard because it was the only way he could crack the lineup. There simply wasn't much room in the backfield for somebody who weighed 170 pounds and ran the 40 in 4.7 seconds.

He eventually worked his way up to fullback, where his focus as a senior in 1989 was on catching the ball and blocking - neither of which required blinding speed. In lieu of trophies and plaques, he took away from his high school days soft hands and sublime blocking skills. Both have served him well with the Broncos.

He earned a scholarship to Long Beach State, but only because his older brother, Reggie Webb, already was there as a tailback and was able to sell then-coach George Allen on Davis. Davis played there for one year before Allen died and the program was disbanded. He transferred to Georgia, but injuries kept him in the shadows of Garrison Hearst.

He didn't become a big fish in any body of water until he reached the mother of all fishbowls. His rookie year in Denver, in 1995, Davis finished with 1,117 yards rushing to become the lowest draft choice in NFL history to gain more than 1,000 yards as a rookie. He was invited to the Pro Bowl last year and this year, and now he finds himself at history's doorstep.

The red carpet will be rolled out for Davis today at Lincoln Prep, which will celebrate ``Terrell Davis Day.'' As part of the proceedings, Davis will have his high school jersey retired. School officials see no harm in taking a few liberties with history. Steven Spielberg's Amistad didn't suffer for it, so why should Davis' Deliverance?

Davis' legions of fans are swelling, but not his head. It's hard not to cheer for a superstar whom guard Brian Habib has described as having ``no ego whatsoever.''

For all his success, Davis has kept in touch with his inner child - the one who wished upon a star for success but never expected a response.

``Sometimes I'll be sitting at home,'' Davis has said, ``and I'll just laugh. If I'm dreaming, don't wake me up.''

CAPTION(S):

Photo

PHOTO ``. . . it amazes me that I'm at the highest level possible and I'm doing as well as I am.''

- Terrell Davis

Denver Broncos running back
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 20, 1998
Words:935
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