Retirement at Halftime: The Bizarre Story of Vontae Davis

The Buffalo Bills’ Week 2 game of the 2018 NFL season started like any other NFL game. There was buzz surrounding it, as it was the first career start for quarterback and first-round draft pick Josh Allen. However, by the end of halftime, that wasn’t the most exciting story of the game.

The Bills were at home taking on the Los Angeles Chargers on September 16, 2018. During the first week of the season, the Bills had lost a miserable game at the Baltimore Ravens, 47-3. Their game against the Chargers wasn’t fairing any better, as the Bills found themselves in a deficit at halftime, 28-6.

Instead of a typical halftime of game-planning and adjusting for the second half, the Bills instead were dealing with the sudden departure of one of their starting cornerbacks. Vontae Davis, 10-year NFL veteran and two-time Pro Bowl cornerback, decided to call it quits before the team could make it back to the locker room for the half. He went to the coaches to pull himself out of the game, went to the locker room, changed into his street clothes, and left the stadium.

Davis’ teammates were both shocked and taken back by this sudden decision. One teammate, linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, thought it was “disrespectful.”

But for Davis, who was 30 at the time, this decision was sudden, but not as sudden as it seemed. In an article with ESPN’s Brendan Meyer, Davis recalls the week leading up to the game was like any other week. He was named a starter due to an injury in Week 1 to Phillip Gaines. He prepared throughout the week by studying game film of the Chargers. By Sunday, Davis felt happy, healthy, and excited to play.

Even the lead-up to the game the day of was as routine as imagined. Davis mentioned how pre-game warmups went well, and he recalled the buzz in the stadium after the national anthem. There was excitement for Allen and for the first home game of the year.

It was on the third play of the game when Davis knew something was different. On that play, Davis stopped Chargers running back Melvin Gordon short of the first down marker on third down, forcing Los Angeles to punt. He celebrated with his teammates, and the crowd was sent into a frenzy. But, it was that play that Davis knew something wasn’t right.

For Davis, it wasn’t physical. He had a history of groin injuries that had slightly derailed his career. But, he had felt healthier than ever. For Davis, it was mental. In that moment, he felt the fire for the game go out. Suddenly, in an “a-ha” moment, as he would describe later, he had no more desire to play the game he had played for nearly his entire life. He was mentally out of the game and out of football. “I don’t feel right,” he reportedly said to his teammates a short time after the play.

After coming to the realization that he mentally couldn’t play anymore, he went up to defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier with a few minutes left in the first half of the 28-6 blowout, and said to him, “I’m done,” before heading to the locker room. He changed out of his uniform, texted his wife what he was doing, and asked her to leave the game and meet him at their home. He left the locker room before his teammates or coaches could arrive for halftime.

This decision was quickly picked up by the media after the game, as first reported by Mike Rodak of ESPN at the time:

This led to a flood of responses, making the story one of the leading headlines across the country. There were many who were incensed by his decision, believing him to be a “quitter.” Many also found it hilarious, as it caused him to trend on Twitter for the remainder of the day. Tweets poured in onto the social media website about Davis, the Bills, and his decision.

That day, the Bills attempted a comeback against the Chargers, only to fall short in the end, 31-20. After the game, a press conference that should’ve been about the first start of a rookie quarterback ended up being about the bizarre end of a veteran’s career. During their time with the media, everyone involved with the team was being asked about Davis and his decision. Many players had no idea what led him to make that choice. The coaches were cryptic about the situation, with head coach Sean McDermott saying only this in his postgame press conference: “He pulled himself out of the game. He told us he was done.” He chose not to go into details about the whereabouts of Davis, or their thoughts about him leaving.

Davis did release a statement afterwards on social media, doing his best to explain the odd situation:

Although initially irritated with his decision, Davis’ teammates have recently begun to see the humor in the situation. On April 10, 2020, his former teammates LeSean McCoy and Tre’Davious White shared their accounts of that day on McCoy’s Instagram Live, believing the whole situation to be hysterical (Warning: video NSFW):

Davis himself has said he has no regrets about his decision of retirement or about how he did it. “And looking back, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life, honestly,” he said in the ESPN article. “Because I did something that I knew was the best thing for me.”

As for the Bills, they finished the 2018 campaign with a 6-10 overall record. The following season, with McDermott still at the helm, they went 10-6 and earned a wild card berth before falling to the Houston Texans in the Wild Card Round of the NFL Playoffs.

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