DENVER — Terrell Davis was named a finalist for the NFL Hall of Fame for the first time this year out of the eight years he’s been eligible. And if you ask Mike Shanahan, it’s about seven years too late.
The former Denver Broncos head coach has never been shy when asked about what Davis meant to the Broncos’ two Super Bowl teams.
“We don’t win those two Super Bowls without TD,” Shanahan said when he was asked most recently. “He is a Hall of Fame player.”
Want some perspective as to just how great Davis was during the Broncos’ two successful playoff runs?
Only three running backs in NFL history have rushed for over 450 yards in one postseason. And Davis is the only one of those three to have done it twice.
A year after Davis rushed for 468 yards during the 1998 playoffs, Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George rushed for 449 yards in the following postseason. Since then, no running back has even gained more than 350 rushing yards in a single postseason.
But perhaps even more important than the number of total rushing yards Davis gained during those two Super Bowl runs was the average number of yards he gained per carry — 5.2 in 1997 and 6.0 in 1998.
That stat, in fact, is one part of a three-part formula regarding NFL backfields that has correctly predicted the Super Bowl champion in each of the 48 years that one has been crowned.
That formula is as follows:
- Super Bowl champions in 26 seasons had a rusher like Davis — one who averaged over 4 yards per carry.
- Super Bowl champions in 17 other seasons utilized a multi-headed backfield — one in which the team had at least two running backs who averaged at least 10 carries per game.
- Super Bowl champions in the remaining five seasons had a running back who was invited to multiple Pro Bowls during his career (and in four of those five cases, the running back had also won at least one NFL MVP award).
(Note: The data that lead to the above formula is included below)
One reasonable conclusion that could be drawn from this formula is that all 48 teams who have won a Super Bowl were a consistent threat to run the football.
So what does that mean for the Broncos? Well, they don’t have a Pro Bowl running back, so they would have to accomplish either parts 1 or 2 of the above formula.
Most fans would likely prefer to see part 1 come to fruition, which would mean C.J. Anderson continuing his strong play over the last half of the regular season.
But despite his average of 4.7 yards per carry this season, it’s not as if Anderson is a lock to average over 4 yards per carry in the playoffs. During his seven starts to close the season, Anderson topped that all-important mark in four out of seven games.
Part 2 of the above formula might actually be easier for the Broncos to satisfy, as it would likely mean continuing to ease a dinged-up Ronnie Hillman back into the mix. And there are positive signs on that front, with Hillman having logged 15 carries in the season finale against Oakland and having not appeared on the team’s Friday injury report.
But what about the Colts’ chances of satisfying the parameters of the formula? Well, so far this postseason, so good.
In their win over the Cincinnati Bengals last week, not only did starting running back Daniel Heron average 4.7 yards per carry, the Colts also gave 11 carries to Zurlon Tipton.
But that’s a rather small sample size. In three starts since taking over for the injured Ahmad Bradshaw, Heron has averaged just 3.5 yards per carry. And as for Tipton, last week was the first time the rookie has ever logged double-digits carries in his career.
Now, is satisfying at least one parameter of the above formula a guarantee that a team is going to win the Super Bowl? Certainly not. Two years ago, the Broncos actually satisfied the formula themselves in their loss to the Baltimore Ravens, with Knowshon Moreno’s 10 carries making up for Hillman’s paltry 3.2 yards per carry. (Funny how an answered Hail Mary changes things.)
But the fact remains: No team has ever won a Super Bowl without satisfying at least one parameter of the formula, the complete proof of which can be found below.
Super Bowl champions satisfying ‘The Formula’
- 1966: Jim Taylor, GB – 3.4 yards per carry (Elijah Pitts also averaged 11.5 carries per game)
- 1967: Donny Anderson, GB – 3.1 yards per carry (Travis Williams also averaged 10 carries per game)
- 1968: Matt Snell, NYJ – 3.9 yards per carry (Emerson Boozer also averaged 10.5 carries per game)
- 1969: Mike Garrett, KC – 3.5 yards per carry (Kansas City had 2 other players, Wendell Hayes and Robert Holmes, who averaged over 8 carries per game)
- 1970: Norm Bulaich, BAL – 3.3 yards per carry (Tom Nowatzke also averaged 10.3 carries a game)
- 1971: Duane Thomas, DAL – 3.7 yards per carry (Dallas also had 2 other players, Walt Garrison and Calvin Hill, who averaged 10 carries per game)
- 1972: Larry Csonka, MIA – 4.2 yards per carry
- 1973: Larry Csonka, MIA – 4.1 yards per carry
- 1974: Franco Harris, PIT – 3.9 yards per carry (Rocky Bleier also averaged 16.3 carries per game)
- 1975: Franco Harris, PIT – 3.9 yards per carry (Rocky Bleier also averaged 12.3 carries per game)
- 1976: Mark van Eeghen, OAK – 3.5 yards per carry (Clarence Davis also averaged 11.3 carries per game)
- 1977: Tony Dorsett, DAL – 4.4 yards per carry
- 1978: Franco Harris, PIT – 3.5 yards per carry
- 1979: Franco Harris – 3.5 yards per carry (Rocky Bleier also averaged 9.0 carries per game)
- 1980: Mark van Eeghen, OAK – 3.5 yards per carry (Kenny King also averaged 10.5 carries per game)
- 1981: Earl Cooper, SF – 5.0 yards per carry
- 1982: John Riggens, WSH – 4.5 yards per carry
- 1983: Marcus Allen, LA – 8.0 yards per carry
- 1984: Wendell Tyler, SF – 4.5 yards per carry
- 1985: Walter Payton, CHI – 2.8 yards per carry
- 1986: Joe Morris, NYG – 4.4 yards per carry
- 1987: Timmy Smith, WSH – 6.7 yards per carry
- 1988: Roger Craig, SF – 4.9 yards per carry
- 1989: Roger Craig, SF – 4.6 yards per carry
- 1990: Ottis Anderson, NYG – 4.0 yards per carry
- 1991: Earnest Byner, WAS – 3.7 yards per carry (Ricky Ervins also averaged 16.3 carries per game)
- 1992: Emmitt Smith, DAL – 4.7 yards per carry
- 1993: Emmit Smith, DAL – 4.2 yards per carry
- 1994: Ricky Waters, SF – 4.3 yards per carry
- 1995: Emmitt Smith, DAL – 4.0 yards per carry
- 1996: Edgar Bennett, GB – 3.7 yards per carry (Dorsey Levens also averaged 13.0 carries per game)
- 1997: Terrell Davis, DEN – 5.2 yards per carry
- 1998: Terrell Davis, DEN – 6.0 yards per carry
- 1999: Marshall Faulk, STL – 2.2 yards per carry
- 2000: Jamal Lewis, BAL – 3.3 yards per carry
- 2001: Antowain Smith, NE – 4.0 yards per carry
- 2002: Michael Pittman, TB – 3.4 yards per carry (Mike Alstott also averaged 14.7 carries per game)
- 2003: Antowain Smith, NE – 4.0 yards per carry
- 2004: Corey Dillon, NE – 4.5 yards per carry
- 2005: Jerome Bettis, PIT – 3.2 yards per carry (Willie Parker also averaged 14.2 carries per game)
- 2006: Joseph Addai, IND – 3.9 yards per carry (Dominic Rhodes also had 15.5 carries per game)
- 2007: Brandon Jacobs, NYG – 3.2 yards per carry (Ahmad Bradshaw also averaged 12 carries per game)
- 2008: Willie Parker, PIT – 3.5 yards per carry
- 2009: Pierre Thomas, NO – 4.0 yards per carry
- 2010: James Starks, GB – 4.0 yards per carry
- 2011: Ahmad Bradshaw, NYG – 4.3 yards per carry
- 2012: Ray Rice, BAL – 3.6 yards per carry (Bernard Pierce also averaged 10 carries per game)
- 2013: Marshawn Lynch, SEA – 4.4 yards per carry
Bold: players who were invited to at least two Pro Bowls in their careers