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A 'discouraged' Terrell Davis almost ditched his first NFL season: 'The only way you really fail is to quit'

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Terrell Davis poses during his NFL Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2017.
Joe Robbins | Getty Images

Anyone questioning their talents or abilities when embarking on a new career can take solace in this fact: even future Hall-of-Famers have doubts.

That includes Terrell Davis, the former Denver Broncos star running back and NFL MVP, who won two Super Bowls in the 1990s. Davis, who was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2017 after rushing for more than 7,600 yards in a seven-year career, almost quit football before he even played his first NFL game in 1995. 

At the time, Davis was an unheralded sixth-round draft pick entering his rookie season in the NFL. He was trying to win a job as the Broncos' starting running back, but he entered the preseason as the team's sixth-string in the position. Davis also felt he wasn't getting enough playing time in preseason to prove his talent to his coaches, the now 47-year-old Hall-of-Famer told entrepreneur Marcus Lemonis in a recent Instagram Live interview. 

When the Broncos traveled to Tokyo for the team's second preseason game, an exhibition match against the San Francisco 49ers, Davis got so discouraged in the practices leading up to the game that he nearly quit the team and flew back to the U.S., he told Lemonis, who is the host of CNBC's "The Profit."

"I almost quit in training camp when I was in Tokyo, Japan in preseason because I wasn't getting the opportunity to show them what I could do," Davis told Lemonis. "I just felt like it wasn't for me. They had faster guys who were better than me at the time, and I got a little discouraged, so I wanted to quit."

However, while Davis was ready to end his NFL career before it even began, the running back's plans to quit were actually foiled by an impenetrable language barrier.

"Fortunately, my Japanese wasn't so good and I couldn't get a flight out of Japan to quit," Davis told Lemonis. In fact, in a previous radio interview with ESPN in 2019, Davis specifically said he tried to arrange a flight home through his hotel's concierge in Tokyo, but the hotel employee didn't speak English, and Davis didn't speak Japanese. 

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So Davis was stuck in Tokyo, where he ultimately decided to return to the team in time for the preseason game.

"I stuck it through," Davis told Lemonis, noting that he ended up making a tackle on a special teams play that won him the favor of the Broncos coaches, boosting Davis' confidence while earning him more playing time in subsequent games.

"That play changed [the] entire trajectory of my career," Davis told Lemonis.

In fact, after deciding to stick with his football career, Davis would go on to defy the odds and win a starting job with the Broncos to begin the season. That year, Davis broke out with over 1,100 yards rushing and seven touchdowns. 

MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 31: Terrell Davis #30 of the Denver Broncos carries the ball against the Atlanta Falcons during Super Bowl XXXIII January 31, 1999 at Pro Player Stadium in Miami, Florida . The Broncos won the game 35-19.
Focus On Sport | Getty Images Sport | Getty Images

Davis then went on to make the NFL's Pro Bowl team in each of the next three seasons and win the league's MVP award in 1998, a year in which he became only the fourth-ever NFL player at the time to rush for over 2,000 yards in a season

A string of knee injuries cut Davis' career short after seven seasons in the NFL, but his success on the field still earned him around $19 million in salary and bonuses over his NFL career, according to Spotrac, along with a spot in the NFL Hall of Fame.

Now Davis runs his own small business called Defy — which makes CBD-infused sports drinks — advises everyone against quitting on their dreams.

"The only way you really fail is to quit," Davis told Lemonis. "If you go for it and it doesn't work out, that's not a failure. That's a lesson."

Davis recounted the story of nearly quitting football after Lemonis asked him to describe a low-point in his career when he considered giving up. 

Lemonis is a self-made millionaire entrepreneur and the CEO of Camping World, who on "The Profit" tries to help struggling small business owners turn around their fortunes. As such, Lemonis asked Davis for his advice to small business owners who are currently struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic.

First of all, Davis said, it is perfectly normal to have thoughts about giving up. "I always tell people, 'If you didn't think about quitting at least a thousand times during your process, then something's not right — like, you're not working hard enough,'" he said.

Davis added that his own career was "about defying the odds" and his advice for all small business owners who are currently worried about how their companies will survive is to "keep fighting, never give up."

"Right now, we're all challenged in this climate …" Davis told Lemonis. "Keep marching through all of this adversity. That's what sports is about [and] that's what business is about."

It's important to believe in yourself and your ability to overcome the challenges all business owners face in this uncertain economy.

"Ask yourself the question: 'Why not me? Why can't I be the one to make it through all of this?'" Davis said. "If you believe in yourself and believe in what you're doing, and stick to it, good things will happen."

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