A career to celebrate
BY STEVEN M. SIPPLE Lincoln Journal Star
NU FOOTBALL: Davison finds it's better to give than to receive
Matt Davison is calm this morning.
Never mind that he, along with 26 other Nebraska seniors, are playing for the last time in Memorial Stadium. Never mind the screaming red-clad masses on the street, or the pad-popping bedlam of teammates in a typical pre-game locker room.
Davison, a 6-foot-1, 182-pound receiver from Tecumseh, says he's never been the type to get nervous or riled before games. So, in the moments leading to today's kickoff, he'll kick back and relax, maybe listen to some tunes.
"I think I'm that way because I'm not scared to fail," Davison says. "I'm not scared to drop a ball. I'm not scared to drop the winning touchdown pass. There are more important things in my life than football.
"Right now, football's a big part of my life and it's very important to me, and I give my heart and soul to this program. But the rest of my life isn't going to revolve around whether I catch the ball on third-and-12 or not."
Or on fourth-and-5.
These are some odd career bookends. On one side, there's Davison's miracle touchdown catch of a deflected pass in the 1997 Missouri game. A precocious 18-year-old back then, Davison snared the ball just off the Faurot Field grass and thereby resuscitated Nebraska's title hopes. Fans will remember his catch forever.
On the other end, there's the fourth-and-5 aerial he couldn't quite seize Nov. 11 in Nebraska's crushing loss at Kansas State. He jumped and stretched and, just when you thought the Huskers' last-ditch drive was alive, Dyshod Carter leveled him, and the ball dribbled harmlessly to the snowy AstroTurf. This time, the title hopes died.
Fans also will remember that one for a while.
Of course, that's life. Win some, lose some.
Davison's 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Reece, loves him regardless, he says. Reece helps daddy keep his priorities straight.
"I could have the worst game of my life, and when I go see her she's happy to see me," he says. "She's my biggest fan."
Davison isn't married to his daughter's mother. Ask him about their relationship, and he says, "We get along." At this moment he wants to change the subject. He's polite but firm with his request. All the while he talks quickly. Davison is a top-grade receiver and talker.
Sure, he says, he wishes fans could know more about players as people.
"But I think there are things that really don't pertain. . . . What difference is it going to make, you know?" he asks.
"I'm by no means hiding the fact I'm a father. I love it. I love Reece to death. But it has no bearing on the people watching me play. And I really don't want her to have to grow up always having to answer questions about me."
Davison will forever field questions about the miracle at Mizzou.
"I still don't go a couple days without hearing about it or maybe seeing a replay of it," he says. "It will follow me for a long time."
Back then Davison thought Nebraska might never lose another game. Really, he felt that confident. He thought he'd have two or three national championship rings before it was all over.
Instead he settles for one glistening title ring, and a lot of catches.
Entering today's game against Colorado, Davison has 90 career receptions for 1,422 yards and six touchdowns. He trails only Johnny Rodgers (143 catches, 2,479 yards, 26 TDs) on the school's career receptions list.
"Matt's a guy you can always count on, not only for the easy catch, but for the difficult catch," Nebraska Coach Frank Solich said. "He's a guy you can go to when you need a big play."
Davison's proud of his standing but thinks he could've done more. He notes how his numbers have dipped since his sophomore season, when he made 32 catches for 394 yards. As a junior, he caught 29 passes for 441 yards. And this season, he's made 18 grabs for 355 yards, tying junior tight end Tracey Wistrom for the team lead.
Senior wingback Bobby Newcombe has 17 receptions.
Ask Davison to explain this year's dropoff, and he searches for the right words.
"My opportunities were cut this year," he says flatly. "That's really the main reason."
He says he's not sure why his opportunities were cut.
"I'm probably not the guy to ask," he says.
That guy, of course, is Solich, who doubles as offensive coordinator. Solich says Davison remains the primary target he always has.
"Basically, it's the result of ineffectiveness in the passing game for a share of the season," the coach explains.
Davison says injuries also have limited him more than past seasons. It's a surprising revelation, because you don't hear much about Davison's injuries. "That's because I always play," he says.
Yet he practiced only twice a week during a four-week stretch midway through the season. He says he has played in pain since the Sept. 23 Iowa game, in which a defender rolled up on his ankle. Then he banged up a knee against K-State.
"It's been a frustrating year," Davison says. "Everybody plays with pain - it's not like I'm the only guy. But it's been a different thing for me because I've never been injured."
Which is surprising in itself. Davison isn't exactly an intimidating physical presence.
"He's not built like a physical-type player, but he's so athletic and he's so smart," Solich says. "When you combine it all, you got yourself an excellent player."
Davison says he never thinks about dropping passes, which helps explain why he virtually never drops them.
By the way, he doesn't consider the failed fourth-down play at K-State to be a drop.
He knew the play could work. The middle of the field was open. So he suggested it to the coaches.
"And I really was open," he says. "A little bit better execution and it would've been a first down, and we would have had a chance to go on and win the game."
Walking off the field that night was difficult, Davison says.
"Seeing all your hopes for a national title go down the tubes was really disappointing," he says. "And knowing I went to Manhattan (Kan.) twice and never won - that will be tough to swallow for years to come."
Davison says the fans and surroundings in Manhattan make it "a tough place to lose."
"I don't want to cause any controversy, but since K-State has come along the last few years, I don't think they know how to win yet," he says. "We've been beaten by other programs and have never been treated the way we get treated down there.
"Those are two games I'd really like to play over again, more than any other games we've lost."
Someday Davison wants to work in a business setting in either Omaha or Lincoln. In his spare time, he says, he would coach either football or basketball at the high school level (he scored 1,900 points during a stellar prep career and played hoops for the Huskers during the second semester last season).
But the real world can wait. Davison hopes to play in the NFL.
"I'm going to give it one shot - just one shot," he says. "I'm going to get healthy, first of all, and then prepare myself to give it my best effort. Hopefully I'll get a shot to go into a camp, where the odds will be stacked against me again, like they were when I came here."
He remembers the doubters.
"I was supposedly too small, supposedly too slow, supposedly not strong enough," he recalls, noting he weighs the same as he did when he arrived.
"My whole life doesn't depend on whether I make it in the NFL," Davison continues. "I'm not going to be nervous. I'm going to keep my mouth shut and work hard - just like I did when I came here. If I don't make it, I'll be fine. I'll come back and get a job and go on with the rest of my life."
Of course he won't be nervous in a pro camp. Nerves aren't an issue for Davison. Remember, he's not afraid to fail. And his daughter provides perspective.
"I'm not living for me anymore," Davison says. "Once you're a father . . . put it this way, you wear your seatbelt a little more often."
Nebraska's season has required a seatbelt; the ride's been a little rough, those two losses painful. Ask Davison about his outlook entering his final home game, and he pauses, again searching for the right words.
"I just want to go out on a good note," he says. "I'm really going to remember the last few plays I have. I don't ever want to look back and say, 'Geez, I didn't finish it out like I wanted to finish it out - I quit.' I'm not going to do that, and I don't think anybody else on the team will do that.
"We have too much pride and too much integrity to ever give up and not play to the best of our ability.
"No matter what happens (today), you're going to see a great effort. You're going to see a team that isn't thinking about whether they're 8-2 or 10-0. You're going to see a team that's ready to beat the Colorado Buffaloes."
And if Nebraska loses, well, life goes on.
Reach Steven M. Sipple at 473-7440 or email@example.com.
TED KIRK/Lincoln Journal Star Matt Davison, then a freshman, cradles the ricocheted pass off the foot of Shevin Wiggins for the last-second touchdown in Columbia, Mo., that allowed Nebraska to tie Missouri in regulation and win in overtime in the classic 1997 game.