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It's Bigg country

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It's Bigg country

To know Leonard Davis, you need to know a place in his heart


Star-Telegram Staff Writer



Leonard Davis is the biggest (354 pounds) Cowboy, but that and his $16 million signing bonus isn't why he's living large.

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WORTHAM -- There is a room in Sammie Lee Davis' house that is filled with the kind of meticulously preserved memorabilia that you'd think would tell a person everything he needs to know about a big-time athlete like Cowboys right guard Leonard Davis.

Newspaper clippings from his Little Dribbler days, Leonard's letter to Santa in which, as a 10-year-old, he asked for a Dallas Cowboys jacket, breathless letters from anxious recruiters and endless piles of pictures, all saved in a scrapbook for posterity.

A story exists behind all of them, and Sammie Lee tells them with a joyous laugh, unending patience and a knack for detail. But you can tell she feels as though something is missing.

"Do you want to go by his house? I'll drive you by his house," she says. "You should go by his house."

She knows. She understands. And so Sammie Lee loads assembled family and visitors into the car and takes us to the land, almost 1,000 acres, that Leonard bought right down the road. He built a house -- actually, it looks more like a garage because of the siding and has a loft and a large balcony. It certainly does not look like the fancy digs of a big-money athlete.

"Do you want to get out?" she asks.

You do and almost immediately you are struck by how quiet it is, how vast, how green, how open, how so unlike Phoenix or Dallas.

"Do you want to see the farm? I can drive you by the farm," she says. "You should see the family farm."

She knows. She knows that to truly understand the latest, biggest and most expensive Cowboy, you can not only look at the pictures or go over the stats. You have to walk around on the grass and among the cows and stand under the gigantic oak trees near the back of the farm that have provided a canopy for generations of Davis family reunions.

You have to do this to understand why the Leonard Davis who was labeled a big, fat, lazy bust in Arizona has never made an appearance in a Cowboy uniform. He is a probable Pro Bowler, a Texas boy made good upon returning to his roots, and all you have to do is get out of the car and walk around to understand why.

"This is home. This is the roots for him," his brother, Lawrence, said. "All of us, the older brothers, were gone when he came through. He was with my dad working the land. He was the last one to work this land with my dad."

Mysterious ways

Those who knew Lee Arnold Davis say he was as tall and straight and strong as the oaks that grow on the family farm. They called him "The Talking Bible" because the mighty preacher had every verse not only memorized but on the tip of his tongue for just the right moment.

One of his favorites was: "The Lord works in mysterious ways."

How else do you explain how a widow bringing up 10 kids just happens to visit a church at which a widower with 11 of his own is preaching?

"Sammie, look at that big-eyed man looking at you."

"He ain't looking at me."

Sure enough, though, every time Sammie looked up, L.A. was staring at her and, when she hustled to her car after church, he was waiting. They were soon engaged, and this is how the Davis clan was formed.

They were the Brady Bunch on steroids.

And while many were already grown and gone, everybody else had to find a way to fit into Sammie Lee's house that she had bought for $800 and paid another $750 to move. As we drive by on this sunny Saturday in November, everybody in the car stops talking as if trying to digest how so many kids fit in so little a space.

"The boys refused to move in until L.A. built that extra room," Sammie Lee said with a laugh.

'Bigg' was special

Obviously, she had zero plans for having another baby. "I thought I was through having children," she said. The Lord works in mysterious ways, though, which is how at 41 she gave birth to a baby boy who didn't quite weigh 8 pounds, Leonard Barnett Davis.

There are seemingly 1,000 stories of just how not like everybody else Leonard was, how he started on cereal at 7 days old because he already was eating like an offensive lineman, how he outgrew his bassinet in something like 15 seconds, how teachers had to send for a high school desk for him in third grade, how everybody called him "Bigg." The story L.A. loved telling more than any other was how Leonard, as a little baby, had somehow lifted his head and stared at his papa with "an unrelenting gaze."

"He didn't do that," Sammie Lee said.

"Yes, he did," L.A. said.

From that moment, L.A. believed Bigg to be special, with a message to share and, sure enough, an almost Paul Bunyan-esque legend has followed, including, mostly recently, how he rescued a horse stuck in a sinkhole near his property in Arizona during the off-season.

"To listen to Andre Gurode tell the story, I went into the mud and lifted him up by myself, that I went out with one hand," Leonard said in his deep, methodical voice. "I used my tractor."

While many NFL players accumulate Bentleys or bling, Leonard is a bulldozer and tractor guy. He loves working the land, spending his off-season helping Lawrence clear trees and boulders from the family farmland.

He first learned how to drive a tractor at age 3, a result of a day-care problem. Sammie Lee had no idea what she was going to do with Bigg while she was at work, so L.A. told her to pack him a lunch basket, give him a change of clothes and water. He then took him to the farm while he worked.

"One day he comes home and says, 'Momma, momma, I can drive the tractor,'" she remembers.

"He wasn't nothing but 3 years old."

"You can't drive a tractor," she said.

"Yes, m'am, I can," he said. "Ask my papa."

"He was driving the tractor while my husband and another man pulled corn, and he soon worked that farm with them."

"I think the only thing I didn't ever pick was cotton," Leonard said. He picked peas and corn like his brothers and his father and his father's father before him. Sammie Lee is convinced these long days on the farm are what bonded these two "like peas in a pod."

"Papa loved him so, and he loved his papa," she said.

Special Father's Day

For Father's Day two years ago, Leonard handed him a little model tractor that looked much like that tractor he had allowed him to drive at 3.

L.A. looked ready to cry, holding that little replica in hands that seemed unaffected by his stroke. It was then Leonard drove around the corner in the real deal.

"He walked up, dropped his cane and got on," Leonard said. "He actually cranked up that old tractor and rode around."

Leonard's dad had been sick for a while, having open-heart surgery in 1993 and the stroke in 1999. He couldn't see. He couldn't hear. He certainly could not travel. The Cardinals' seasons had been hard on him. He did not get to see Leonard often, flying in twice and driving another two.

"He told me to tell Leonard he didn't think he would make another trip," Sammie Lee said.

When Leonard reached free agency, he had a choice between the Cowboys and the Redskins. He had been to Dallas, only to leave without a deal. His parents were devastated, thinking things were just not meant to be. He called his parents late that night. They already were in bed.

"Where are you, Leonard?" Sammie Lee asked.

"I'm at the airport," he said. "I'm coming home, Mom."

"Oh, L.A., wake up, your son is coming home," she said. "He signed with the Dallas Cowboys."

In the months afterward, everywhere L.A. went he told everyone he met that his son was coming home to play for the Cowboys. As he always liked to say, though, the Lord works in mysterious ways. Barely two months before the Cowboys' opener in Dallas, L.A. died.

"It was tough," Bigg said. "There were days where I would be driving up here, and I'd be thinking about it or leaving and thinking about it and thinking about life in general. All the memories and what all he's taught me. There is a lot of wisdom that he imparted."

The lesson they all learned growing up and why they all keep coming back is the family.

Cousins, brothers, mothers, nephews, aunts, sons, nieces, sisters, fathers all will gather at Sammie Lee's house in Wortham today. She is probably finishing the turkey and greens right now, laying out her famous pecan pies. They will laugh and tell stories and watch the Cowboys-Jets game and tell stories about Leonard.

They will not worry about him, though. He is back where he belongs or close enough.

"The dressy, flashy and all that has never been him," his sister Donna said. "Leonard loves being down here. This is his home."

Home is one of those words that is often misused. It is not necessarily the cookie-cutter house you slept in for all of those angst-ridden years. Home is a way of life, how you feel when you return after a time away.

"If you could go somewhere where there was just peace and quiet, wouldn't you want to go?" Bigg asked. "I go out there and sit on the balcony in the evenings and just kick back and relax. It's quiet. It's home."

Leonard Davis

Ht., wt.: 6-foot-6, 354 pounds

Pos.: Offensive guard, tackle

NFL year: Seventh

Notable: First season with the Cowboys. ... Spent previous six seasons with Arizona. ... Second overall pick (behind Michael Vick) in the 2001 NFL Draft out of Texas. ... Parade All-American at Wortham High School. ... Has 21 half-brothers and half-sisters.

Web site:


Jennifer Floyd Engel, 817-390-7760

** I did not post this to boast about Davis. It is a damn good read and makes me respect him even more ***

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