Vernon Davis and Vontae Davis have competed their whole lives, only never against each other and certainly not on a professional football field. That ends this Sunday at Candlestick Park when the 49ers host the Indianapolis Colts. All eyes will be on the Davis brothers, especially when Vontae, the cornerback, has his first opportunity to tackle his elder sibling, the tight end.
Adaline Davis strolls through a mall in her hometown of Washington D.C. At the same time, her extended family gathers some 3,000 miles away in San Francisco. The Davis family is on the West Coast to watch Adaline’s grandsons, Vernon and Vontae, compete against each other for the first time in any sport. “That I don’t like,” Adaline says in her passionate tone. “I really don’t, but I know the game. I knew the Colts and the 49ers were going to play.”
Adaline has only been to a couple of their football games, the biggest being their homecoming games in high school. She simply doesn’t want to see her boys get hurt, so she’ll refrain from watching along on Sunday. No phone calls about the game either. The 70-year-old grandmother will undoubtedly learn the final outcome, but only after the fact, when a family member will share the end result of the 49ers-Colts Week 3 matchup.
The Davis family came a long way to support its NFL stars. Both Vernon and Vontae grew up just outside our nation’s capital, in the Petworth neighborhood of D.C. Vernon, 29, was the eldest of seven raised by his maternal grandmother. Vontae, 25, was the middle child of three boys in the bunch. Vernon made sure his siblings did their homework, and he was active in leading their bible studies. Davis’ parents were not heavily involved in their children’s lives, but it never changed Vernon’s outlook on being successful.
Adaline was the rock of the family. She would even be there to pick up the Davis brothers from their football practices. “She wanted to know how they were doing, just not on the field, but in terms of being at practice on time,” says Craig Jefferies, the Davis brothers' high school football coach.
One of your babies has to lose. That’s what the 49ers tight end told his grandmother. Vernon wanted to comfort Adaline, warning her of the reality that comes with facing Vontae in an NFL game. Adaline understood the situation, but revealed her true feelings. “Win or lose, I’m still going to love you both the same,” the caring grandmother told Vernon. To which he replied, “I know that.”
When Vernon was a three-sport start at Dunbar High School in Washington D.C., the 49ers tight end was developing the work ethic needed to be a future Pro Bowler. The brothers were always in the weight room at Dunbar. “We emphasized weight training and they took it to another level,” says Jefferies, 57, now the coach at Oxon Hill High School in the suburban D.C. area. “We almost had to lock them out of the weight room from trying to get in there. A couple times, they almost got locked in the weight room.”
With this kind of work ethic, Vernon became a first-team, high school All-American, but it wasn’t by accident. He was also setting an example for his younger brother. “He was keeping me in line, he stayed on me,” says Vontae. “He made sure I was doing good in school. He made sure I was doing well when I was playing football. He was just a huge role model in my life growing up. If I didn’t have him at the time, I don’t know how committed I would’ve been to football.”
A little after five in the morning, there’s repetitive sounds from the rubber bottoms of sneakers smacking against the bleachers at Dunbar. One set of footsteps lands heavier than the other. The older brother, is setting the pace but going at a rate just fast enough to keep his younger brother nearby. It’s still dark out. You can hardly see a step ahead, going up and down the bleachers. But it’s not slowing the brothers down. They’re driven. They’re focused on getting in a workout while other teenage athletes are sleeping.
Adaline’s influence is all over these workouts that started in the late 1990s. She wanted her grandchildren to be passionate about pursuing their dreams. “I tell everyone that it was really their grandma who instilled that work ethic into them,” says Jefferies. “They had respect for her and the intelligence to listen to what she was saying about doing the right things and not expecting anything to be given to you.”