Ann Killion
Tuesday February 16th, 2010

Curling and the NFL aren't usually mentioned in the same sentence. Curling is a sport with a cult following and a sense of humor -- most curlers don't mind the jokes about janitorial service or the nerd factor.

The NFL, by contrast, is cocksure in its dominance, the sport of modern day gladiators and Greek Gods.

But San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis happily jumped into curling. He was introduced to the ice sport last fall when the U.S. curling team practiced at the San Jose Sharks practice facility. He gave it a good-natured whirl -- throwing the 40-pound granite stone down the ice -- and soon was asked to be the team's honorary captain.

"You need some athletic ability," Davis said. "You have to have balance in the lunge position on the ice. You can't be out of whack or you'll fall."

We know why curling would want to partner with Davis -- he can bring in a broader audience and gives curling a new, hip look. He even filmed PSAs for the sport.

But why would Davis -- whose previous winter sport participation amounted to an outdoor December game in Philadelphia -- want to hook up with curling?

Two reasons. Davis is something of a renaissance man. This month he went from the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl festivities in Miami to New York for fashion week. He was interning for John Patrick Organic, a line of clothing, trying to learn the fashion business. After Vancouver, he'll head for the Middle East with some other NFL players to meet with U.S. troops.

"I like to stay busy," he said. "When I'm home I work out 24-7. It keeps me out of the clubs at night."

But the other reason that Davis was open to a liaison with curling is that it's another step in the public transformation of Davis. From the "Can't play with him" guy to a more fully formed personality.

"It shows a different side of me," he said. "My versatility. My playful side. And it's a chance to make friends at the Olympics."

A year ago, Davis was a bit like curling: the punch line to any number of jokes. He had infamously been sent off the field by Mike Singletary, in Singletary's debut as 49ers head coach. After the game, he was the subject of Singletary's most famous rant -- one that Coors Light is just itching to use.

"Can't play with him, can't win with him, can't do it," Davis said, in a near-perfect imitation of his head coach. "I've got it down pat."

Rather than sulking or rebelling or demanding a trade, Davis used his extremely public humiliation as a catalyst for change. He embraced Singletary's message of team first. He was contrite with himself and complimentary to his disciplinarian coach. And he had his best season in four years in the NFL.

"It was just a learning experience," he said. "It was a wake up call for me. When I came into the NFL, I had a big head. I thought it was just about me.

"I learned that if I put my teammates first and the coach and organization first, then everything will work out. I found myself having more fun, now that I have the respect of my teammates and my coach. I credit that a lot to coach Singletary."

This season Davis broke the franchise record and tied the league record for touchdowns by a tight end, with 13. He finally materialized into the game-changing threat that he was projected to be when he came out of Maryland.

Now he's heading to the Winter Olympics, to support his new BFFs -- men's curling. He's thinking about bringing a taste of the NFL to the curling sheet with a touchdown-type celebration for the sport.

Said Davis, "I'm working on an excellent one."

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