Even though Clemson’s football heritage is over 100 years old, it does not take long to determine the most significant accomplishment in the program’s history...the 1981 National Championship. And along the same lines, it does not take long to single out the most significant team leader of that great accomplishment—Jeff Davis.
When examining Davis’ contributions to Clemson athletics in terms of leadership, citizenship and athletic records and awards, it is no surprise that he became just the fourth member of Clemson’s prestigious Ring of Honor prior to the opener of the 1995 season. He was also inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2007.
“It is hard to express my feelings on being inducted into the Clemson Ring of Honor and College Football Hall of Fame,” said Davis. “These honors should be spread among my coaches and teammates and all of Clemson who had an impact on my life during my career. No one receives honors like this without help. I want to thank the good Lord for giving me the ability and the opportunity to come to Clemson.”
The native of Greensboro, N.C. registered a then Clemson record 175 tackles in leading the Tigers’ 1981 defense that set a school record for turnovers forced (41) in a single season. He still holds the Clemson career record for caused fumbles (10) and recovered fumbles (8) and his 24 tackles against North Carolina in 1980 are second most in school history.
He played 40 games for Clemson between 1978-81 and had 469 career tackles, 16 pass breakups, 18 tackles for loss, four sacks and four interceptions. He started all 35 games for the Tigers between 1979-81. He was a model of consistency, having registered at least double- figures in tackles in 22 of his last 23 games. Overall, he had 30 double-figure tackle games in his 40-game career and led the team in tackles 25 times.
For his accomplishments in 1981, Davis was named the MVP of the ACC, just the third defensive player in league history to win the award. He concluded the season in grand style with a 14-tackle performance in the 22-15 Orange Bowl win over Nebraska that clinched the national championship for the Tigers, Clemson’s first national title in any sport. Davis was named defensive MVP of the contest as well.At the conclusion of the season, Davis was named a first-team All-American by UPI, Football Coaches Association, Football Writers Association, Walter Camp Foundation and Football News.
He was named lineman- of-the-year by the Atlanta Touchdown Club as well.“We had purpose,” recalled Davis, whose twin sons, J.D. and Judah, played linebackers for the Tigers and won two national titles of their own from 2015-18.
“We took everything one game at a time and did not get caught up in the chase for the national championship. When we started the season, the championship was not a (realistic) goal. We were coming off a 6-5 season in 1980 in which we all thought we could have done much better.”
After clinching the ACC title with a win over Maryland and the state championship with a convincing win at South Carolina, Davis and his Tiger teammates prepared to meet No. 4 Nebraska in the 1982 Orange Bowl, a game that would determine the national championship.
“We knew we were going to win that night,” reflected Davis, who was nicknamed “The Judge” by then Assis- tant Sports Information Director Kim Kelly. “I think the first possession of the game was the key because they fumbled and William Devane recovered the ball. That led to a score and that was something we had been do- ing all year, forcing turnovers and taking over the game. That just told us that this game was not going to be any different than any of the others.”
Perry Tuttle, Davis’ roommate for four seasons and also an All-American on Clemson’s 1981 national champion- ship team, recalled that season and Davis’ passion for the game.
“When we were in the room at night, he would talk about the defense and what it was going to do until I fell asleep," Davis said. "As the season went on, we started dreaming about what could happen with this team, and as we went along, everything started to come true.”
Davis was a fifth-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1982, but he proved the NFL scouts wrong by posting impressive numbers during his six-year NFL career. The inside linebacker played 83 games, including 72 as a starter, between 1982-87. He led the Buccaneers in tackles three of the six years, including a career-high 165 stops in 1984. Davis served as team captain for four seasons as well.
Davis has been just as successful in life after football. During the spring of 1999, he returned to Clemson as field director of the Call Me Mister Program within the Department of Education, Health & Human Development.
In April of 2001, he received the “Use Your Life Award” from Oprah Winfrey’s Angel Network for his work in the Call Me Mister Program. He and his wife Joni graduated from Clemson on the same day in 1984, and they are the parents of four daughters and twin boys, who were born in June of 1995.
Today, Davis is a member of Dabo Swinney’s staff as assistant athletic director for player relations & external affairs.“
One of my main goals in life is to touch the lives of other people and touch them in a positive way. Any time you receive an award like this, it means you’ve been sur- rounded by great people. I want to thank all the people at Clemson, because no one receives an honor like this without help. I am proud to say I am a Clemson graduate and that I represented the University. Hopefully, I have had as positive an impact on them as they have had on me.”