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JOHNNY-COME-LATELY DAVIS GIVES LEGS TO TEAM THAT COUNTED ON ELWAY'S ARM

Moments after Denver demolished New England for the 10th straight time, Broncos media relations director Jim Saccomano ushered the biggest publicity maker he has these days, running back Terrell Davis, to a lectern that for the past 15 years has been reserved for another Bronco football star's postgame news conferences.

"There's only one thing I can say, Terrell," Saccomano said, directing Davis to face the press after he had rushed for 171 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-13 victory over the Patriots on Oct. 6. "You have become John Elway."

"I guess," replied Davis, "I've got to love it."

Later, sitting in an empty Broncos locker room after completing a lengthy weight-lifting session, Davis talked about why he has gained not just immense yardage but also immense popularity.

"I think I'm just something new," said Davis, whom the Broncos selected in the 1995 draft out of the University of Georgia. "Everyone has been with John year after year after year, and everyone loves John. But when something new is happening and there's another up-and-coming player, I think people immediately want to get to that player and learn about him.

"People love John, but they know a lot about John now. John's been here (in Denver) his whole career. So to jump on someone different and to find another player is just refreshing."

So is Davis' attitude. Though he runs like an All-Pro, he is as humble as a fourth-stringer. Which is what he was listed as when he showed up at Broncos training camp in the summer of 1995. Davis always has time to answer reporters' questions, to fill fans' autograph requests, to act like the person he was when he arrived in Denver with all the fanfare of . . . a sixth-round pick.

"When I got here," Davis said with a grin, "no one and their mother knew who the heck I was."

They do now. He gained a modest 70 yards in his NFL debut against the Buffalo Bills on the opening day of the 1995 season. But, he finished that year with 1,117 yards -- helped by a late four-game stretch in which he totaled 506 yards -- despite missing the final two games.

Last year, he rushed for 1,538 yards and 13 touchdowns and is on pace to surpass both of those totals -- he has 861 yards and eight TDs through seven games.

The affection of teammates can't be explained by the numbers. They love his mindset. No runner fears contact less than Davis, who got his legs as a fullback.

At Lincoln Prep High School in San Diego, where Marcus Allen first found greatness, and at Georgia, where he played behind running back Garrison Hearst for one year, Davis often was used at fullback.

He developed a fullback's mentality: no fear of blocking; no fear of contact; an appreciation of the gritty work. His teammates love him for it.

"He works his (butt) off all the time," Broncos guard Brian Habib said. "He's not a prima donna at all. He has no ego whatsoever. And he's very appreciative of what we do for him and I think we work really well together. We appreciate him and work hard for him. We know he's going to get the job done if we get our job done.

"There's a lot of backs in the league you can't count on play in and play out because they're too busy thinking about other things like themselves. Terrell's not like that. He's really focused. He's just one of those guys you love to have on your team."

Plus, he has overcome so much to get to where he is. At age 12, Davis lost his father, John, to lupus. While Davis was in college, his surrogate brother, Jamaul Pennington, was murdered in San Diego. His lone scholarship offer was from Long Beach State, which he was forced to leave when the school folded its program after his freshman year. And throughout, Davis had migraine headaches that hurt worse than any tackle.

His migraines stopped last season, but he has been giving them to opponents frequently.

"It's Terrell's team, and I'm fine with it," Elway said.

To which Davis responded, "How can anybody say that?"

Someone just did. And Elway isn't the only one.

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