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Trading Touchdowns for Tangos

Former Terp, Pro Football Player Vernon Davis Tackles New Challenges on ‘Dancing With the Stars’

By Annie Krakower

Vernon Davis dances with partner Peta Murgatroyd on "Dancing With the Stars"

Photo courtesy of “Dancing with the Stars” Twitter; video courtesy of “Dancing with the Stars” YouTube

Vernon Davis, who played football for the Terps and in the NFL, performs a cha cha with pro dancer Peta Murgatroyd during Week 6 on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.”

After three standout seasons as a Terp, a sixth-overall selection in the 2006 draft, 63 NFL touchdowns, two Pro Bowl selections and a Super Bowl championship, how hard could a little cha cha be?

On ABC’s choreography-crammed competition show “Dancing With the Stars,” Vernon Davis discovered that it required a lot more than a typical end-zone celebration. While the former tight end won’t be able to add the Mirror Ball Trophy to his collection after his Week 6 elimination, he quickstepped, foxtrotted and tangoed his way to a fresh appreciation for a new kind of competition.

“I did think it would be easy, but it wasn’t. It was one of the toughest things that I’ve ever done,” he said. “I have a totally different level of respect for dancers.”

The show has featured other football pros including winners Hines Ward, Rashad Jennings and Emmitt Smith over its 29 seasons. The casting crew first approached Davis six years ago when the then-San Francisco 49er, who also played for the Denver Broncos and his hometown Washington Football Team over a 14-year career, didn’t have time in the midst of the NFL grind. Once he hung up his cleats following the 2019 season, though, he reached back out to DWTS, ready to rumba alongside the likes of a Bachelorette, a Tiger Queen and a Backstreet Boy.

Beyond the skin-showing glittery getups and theatrical themes—he especially liked embodying Lumière from “Beauty and the Beast” during Disney week—Davis quickly found that practice was as important for routines on the stage as it was for receptions on the field. Even after years as an elite athlete, dancing proved physically taxing in a different way. 

“Say a dance is 1 minute and 20 seconds. You turn around, and you go right back to it again, and you do it over and over and over for three to four hours. Can you imagine just the cardio that you’re getting from doing that?” said Davis, who was paired with pro dancer Peta Murgatroyd. “And then the muscles that you’re using—lateral, you’re turning, you’re spinning—so it’s a lot that’s required out of you physically as well as mentally.”

Encouragement along the way helped, whether in tweets from fans (he has over a million followers), messages from former Terp teammates D’Qwell Jackson and Shawne Merriman, or comments from the judges.

“You’re very comfortable with yourself, which actually says a lot,” judge and veteran choreographer Carrie Ann Inaba told Davis after his Week 6 cha cha. “It’s not easy, these movements, to be comfortable. They’re very awkward—anybody who’s done this show knows that. Your body’s in all these strange positions. But you have an ease about you.”

While it wasn’t enough for a perfect 10 or to take home the title, Davis is still moving and grooving in the entertainment industry. He’s producing and acting in the upcoming films “Red Winter” and “A Message From Brianna,” and has more projects in the pipeline.

“I challenged myself in a way that was totally unexpected,” he said. “Accomplishing that tells me that I can go even further. Football is not the only motivation that I have.”



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