Nobody knows when Otho Davis, the Philadelphia Eagles' head trainer, will strike. "He got me during training camp," says rookie running back Joe Hayes, shaking his head. Wide-eyed and eager to please, Hayes was a sitting duck for Davis, the best in the NFL whether it's treating a fractured finger or tricking the unsuspecting.
"One day, I had a swollen left hand," Hayes says, "and Otho gave me aspirin and two little pills. Well, the next morning, I'm in the bathroom, and everything's coming out green. I was petrified. I was sure I had it. I ran to Otho's office, but before I could tell him anything, 20 guys cracked up. I'd been had." Had, specifically, by methylene blue pills.
Running back Wilbert Montgomery, the Eagles' No. 2 practical joker, particularly admires one gag in Davis's repertoire. "Otho asks the rookies if they want to test their neck flexibility," Montgomery says. "They can't volunteer fast enough. He puts a paper cup down the front of their pants. They cock their heads back, and he puts a quarter on each of their foreheads. Otho tells them to flip the coins in the cups. Nobody does it on the first try, but they're sure they can get it on the second. "They put their heads back, but before they can do anything with the coins, Otho pours ice water into the cups. Let me tell you...."
That's the sort of evil that lurks behind the door in the Eagles' locker room, on which hangs a sign reading: POSTED...PROTECTED AREA...THE OTHO DAVIS WILDLIFE SANCTUARY.
October 7, 1984
"We live in fear," adds Montgomery. "We can't do anything to get him. If you make Otho mad, he'll treat you to death."
Other than the aromas of analgesic balm, Power Balm, Body Lube and Merthiolate, the bottles of vitamins, minerals and salt tablets, and the miles of adhesive tape, gauze and Ace bandages, there's little typical about the Eagles' training room in Veterans Stadium.
Davis has decorated the joint in early Collyer Brothers. On the walls, which are Northern Pennsylvania barn board, he has tacked knickknacks from his parents' Elgin, Texas farm—horseshoes, bells, a calf yoke, a butter churn, ice tongs, a toilet seat, saws and photographs of John Wayne. His football helmet collection, which includes a leather model and a truly ancient hard rubber one, hangs from the ceiling, along with several railroad lanterns. In one corner, next to an orange plastic potted palm, is a 40-gallon tank full of tropical fish. Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson blare from a radio permanently tuned to a station that identifies itself as Country 92.
The decor of Davis's private office is more traditional. He sits amidst pictures of the famous men whose muscles he has treated—from Montgomery to John Travolta. Here's where he gets serious: logging the daily injuries and phoning specialists around the country for their latest rehab techniques. Of course, he also finds time to stir his famous chili, which simmers away in the storage room, and to tinker with his tortellini recipe—the secret ingredient is chicken instead of prosciutto ham. His friend Tony Novelli wants to feature it in November at the Novelli family's Villa di Rieti restaurant in South Philly.
But don't mistake Davis's office for a sanctuary. He frequently tries to shoo players away from one of his two refrigerators. "Otho, remember when you brought me back from the dead on the 50-yard line?" says tight end John Spagnola, as he backs up to a fridge and gloms a can of orange juice. Then quarterback Ron Jaworski bursts in. He's singing and carrying dozens of green and white balloons. "We love you, Otho, oh, yes we do.... Otho, where are all the drugs?"
There's method to all this madness. It's the 50-year-old Davis's way of getting close. "I feel as if every player is a part of me," he says. "Unless you feel that, you can't get close; you can't relate to the player. We cut up and joke around. But deep down, there's seriousness on both sides. We're all devoted to one another."
The players appreciate Davis's rough-and-tumble "bedside manner." Says Montgomery, "Football players are supposed to be so tough. We try not to let anybody know how much we hurt or how scared we are. But we can't fool Otho. He senses it." Says Jaworski, "We always think about injuries. It could all be over tomorrow, and the injury could mean paralysis. We're under tremendous pressure. We have to be able to let down our guard somewhere."
"My door is always open," says Davis.
Not only has Davis—who has been named Professional Trainer of the Year four times and was inducted into the Athletic Trainers Hall of Fame in 1981—turned his training room into a home away from home for the Eagles, but he also has made it one of the most up-to-date and complete in the NFL. He has pneumatic air-pressure appliances that reduce swelling; ultrasound equipment; diathermy packs for deep heat; hydrocollator packs for moist heat; traction tables, which warm and massage the back; a Cybex machine, which detects weakness in muscles; a $40,000 computerized Ariel machine, which precisely monitors a patient's rehabilitation progress; three whirlpools; a hot tub; and a "mood" room with carpeted walls and a recliner—although Davis has to be careful whom he lets use it. Tackle Leonard Mitchell fell asleep in the recliner one time and missed part of a practice.
Davis, who logged in 8,500 treatments last year, sometimes works around the clock. Jaworski remembers his ankle sprain of 1979: "We got back from a game in Detroit, and Otho worked on my ankle until 2 a.m. The next day, he was back at 7 a.m., and he massaged my foot for three hours. I couldn't even touch it, but he worked miracles. He had me back on the field that Sunday." When Eagle defensive end Carl Hairston (now with Cleveland) suffered a strained knee during a midweek practice, Davis treated it for 28 straight hours, and Hairston was able to play the following Sunday.
For Davis, the hardest part of dealing with injuries is having to go onto the field to face a player who has gone down. "Last year, in the fourth game of the season, my knee gave out," says Montgomery, who underwent surgery and missed most of the season. "I thought my career was over. I looked up, and there was Otho. He grabbed my hand and told me everything would be O.K."
At times like that, Davis says, he must divorce himself from his feelings. "You can't let yourself be torn," he says. "You can't take management's side or the player's side. You do what's right."
Psst. Don't tell anybody, but Jaworski and Montgomery have been staying up late planning the ultimate prank to pull on Davis. It had better be good because Davis has a way of getting the last laugh. His assistant, Steve Watterson, recalls the closest anyone came to pulling one off on Otho: "In training camp, one of our two student trainers doused Otho's food with Tabasco sauce. Otho took a bite, and his lip curled up a bit. But instead of letting on, he ate the whole plate. Then, he sat back ... with a smile on his face."