CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Thomas Davis knows his window to win a Super Bowl is closing fast.
That doesn’t bother the Panthers 33-year-old All-Pro linebacker as much as the fear of not being able to make good on a promise to team owner Jerry Richardson.
“At this point, it’s really not about me anymore,” Davis said of winning a Super Bowl. “My goal and my whole reasoning for playing as hard as I can right now — knowing that when you get to 12 years (in the league) time is starting to wind down — is I want to put a Super Bowl ring on Mr. Richardson’s finger.”
The promise stems from the loyalty Richardson showed Davis after he tore the ACL in his knee for the third time in two years back in 2011.
Rather than release Davis, who was due an $8 million option that offseason, Richardson met with the former Georgia Bulldogs All-American in his office and asked him to return — a seemingly generous gesture considering no NFL player had ever returned from three torn ACLs in the same knee.
The Panthers restructured Davis’ deal and he’s been rewarding them ever since.
Davis has put together four outstanding seasons, helping the Panthers finish in the top 10 in defense every year. Along with earning his first All-Pro selection last year, he’s also been an ambassador for the team, winning the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2014 and number of other awards for his community service.
But his primary goal is to repay Richardson with the owner’s first Super Bowl since bringing the NFL to the Carolinas in 1995.
“That was the promise I made to him,” Davis said, becoming emotional as he spoke. “I’m trying to stay true to that promise.”
That’s one of the reasons Davis didn’t hesitate to play in the Super Bowl last year after breaking his forearm in the NFC championship game. Davis didn’t complain about having 12 screws and a metal plate surgically inserted into his arm just 13 days before the game.
Davis not only played in Super Bowl 50 but had five tackles and handed out some vicious hits, although the Panthers lost the game 24-10 to the Denver Broncos.
He has said the loss has only bolstered his desire to get back.
The highly regarded Panthers begin their season Thursday night with a rematch against the Broncos in Denver.
“Knowing he was that person that believed in me, that said he would give me another shot after everything I went through personally, it’s definitely something I want to be a part of,” Davis said of Richardson.
While Davis wants to win a ring for the team’s owner — who declined comment for this story through the team’s public relations staff — the linebacker’s teammates want to win one for him.
Davis is as well respected in the Panthers locker room as any player who has put on the pads in the franchise’s 22-year history.
“You look at what Thomas has done for the Carolina Panthers fighting through the knees and with his work in the community, I think getting him a ring would be a final stamp on his resume,” linebacker Luke Kuechly said. “He’s been All-Pro, been to the Pro Bowl, won Walter Payton Man of the Year and all sorts of awards I can’t even name. … If you look at what the Panthers embody, it’s Thomas Davis. He fights, he leads and does everything the right way.”
Then Kuechly smiled and said, “I would never say all of this nice stuff in front of him, but he’s one of my best buds.”
Davis feels the same way about Richardson, a former player who brought football to the Carolinas but has never won the game’s ultimate prize.
“When you look at Mr. Richardson and what he’s been and what he’s done for me as a player, I mean, (a Super Bowl ring) is the only thing he doesn’t have,” Davis said.
Follow AP Sports Writer Steve Reed on Twitter: http://twitter.com/SteveReedAP