We are officially down to just 58 days to go until the 2022 iteration of the Carolina Panthers kick off the regular season. Just like yesterday’s No. 59, today’s No. 58 is not currently worn by a Panthers player and will likely never be worn again if most Panthers fans have their way. That No. 58 belongs to the one and only Thomas Antonio Davis, Sr.
In 2005, the Carolina Panthers used the No. 14 overall pick in the draft to select an athletic safety out of the University of Georgia. The former Bulldog played like one. Though he was mostly a safety in college, the Panthers moved Thomas Davis to outside linebacker in his rookie year, and he was very much viewed as an “anti-Michael Vick selection.” The division rival Atlanta Falcons had the most electrifying offensive player in football at the time, and Davis was brought in because he had the athleticism to help reign Vick in.
After his rookie season sporting the No. 47, Davis switched to the now-iconic No. 58 in his sophomore campaign. He became a starter that season and would not relinquish that role until about halfway through the 2009 season when he tore his ACL for the first time in a game against the New Orleans Saints. He had been on a tear that season, already racking up 61 tackles, 5 passes defensed, 2 interceptions, and 1.5 sacks in just seven games to that point.
Unfortunately for Davis (and Panthers fans), this tear was just the first. In June of 2010, he tore the same ACL on the second day of minicamp and was lost for the entire season. After the season, head coach John Fox was fired and replaced by Ron Rivera. There was some uncertainty about whether Davis, now with consecutive ACL tears in the same knee, would be retained with a new coaching staff taking over. Luckily, he was not only retained but signed to an extension. Unluckily, Davis tore the same ACL a third time in Week 2 of the 2011 season against the Green Bay Packers. A third ACL tear in the same knee in just 23 months’ time. No player had ever returned to the NFL after three ACL tears in the same knee.
At least, no player until Thomas Davis, of course. To start the 2012 season, the Panthers took it easy with Davis, naming him a backup. Some rookie named Luke Kockney or something like that had taken his starting role on the weak side. When starting middle linebacker Jon Beason suffered a shoulder injury in Week 5 of that season, the Luke Kuechly kid moved to middle linebacker, paving the way for Thomas Davis to reclaim his rightful place as a starter and stalwart on the Panthers defense.
Davis spent the next six seasons as a mainstay in the Panthers linebacking corps alongside that Luke Keuchly guy who turned out to be pretty decent. Aside from multiple on-field accolades, Davis was also the first (and only) Panthers player to win the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, which he was awarded for the 2014 season. The award focuses on a player’s contributions off the field in the community. Davis was nominated four times in his career, finally winning on the fourth selection.
Perhaps the on-field moment of his career most emblematic of Thomas Davis’ mindset as a player happened during the magical playoff run after the 2015 season. In the second quarter of the NFC Championship Game against the Arizona Cardinals, Davis suffered a fractured arm. He had surgery and was back on the field in the Super Bowl just two weeks later. For a man that had already had to grind his way back from three ACL tears, this type of feat seemed almost expected.
Heading into the 2018 season, Davis announced he would be retiring at season’s end. After a PED suspension took the first four games from him, he decided to play one more year. Unfortunately, the Panthers decided to go in a different direction since youngster Shaq Thompson showed so much promise. Davis signed a two year contract with the Los Angeles Chargers, played pretty well in 2019 but was released the following spring. He signed up for one last hurrah with former coach Ron Rivera, now in Washington. He completed the 2020 season there, then signed a one day contract to retire a Panther in the spring of 2021.
While TD will likely not make the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he is absolutely worthy of the Panthers’ Hall of Honor and a retired jersey. Most fans would embrace a statue for the former linebacker. After all, he was the one player who perhaps best exemplified the team’s mantra: Keep Pounding.