Andy Davis, 80; Washington Redskin, Star GWU Tailback

Local athlete Andy Davis, dubbed
Local athlete Andy Davis, dubbed "Handy Andy" by sportswriters, was drafted by the Redskins in 1952. He played with the team for two seasons. (By John Daly -- The Washington Post)
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By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 24, 2007

Andy Davis, 80, who is believed to be the first local athlete to sign with the Washington Redskins, died of congestive heart failure Dec. 22 at his home in Silver Spring.

Mr. Davis, a backfield star who played both offensive and defensive positions during his career, was drafted by the Redskins in the second round in 1952. He was a Washington Redskin for two seasons before signing with the New York Giants. Plagued by a dislocated shoulder and knee injuries, he was cut in the fall of 1954.

Although his professional career was brief, Mr. Davis was well-known for both his celebrated schoolboy athletic career at McKinley Tech High School and George Washington University and his subsequent volunteer work as president of the Touchdown Club in 1960 and the Redskins Alumni Association, which he led for many years. He was vice president of the NFL Alumni Association from the late 1970s through the early 1980s and helped start the Dire Need Fund for former football players with unmet medical costs.

Born in Indianapolis, he moved with his family to Washington when he was 12 years old. His father was deaf, and Mr. Davis learned sign language at an early age. At McKinley, he was an all-American, all-high and all-prep football player. He served in the Army just after World War II in occupied Germany and then returned to Washington. He played a year of sandlot football with a team called Car Credit.

Mr. Davis accepted a football scholarship to George Washington University, where he toppled several school records. A tailback, he completed 237 of 532 pass attempts, passed for 3,587 yards and threw 14 touchdown passes. His 950 rushing or passing plays gained 5,003 yards. An honorable mention all-American, he was inducted into the GWU Hall of Fame in 1973.

Shirley Povich, the late Washington Post sports editor, in 1950 called him "the brightest backfield star on a Washington college team in many seasons."

In his rookie year as a pro, the local phenomenon was tapped by coach Curly Lambeau to try out for quarterback, alongside the legendary Sammy Baugh and Harry Gilmer. Dubbed "Handy Andy" by sportswriters, Mr. Davis received high praise from Lambeau early in the season for his play at the bruising wing position on defense. Despite the coach's promise to use him on offense, Mr. Davis never got the chance. Then in November, Lambeau lambasted Mr. Davis publicly, placing the blame for the team's 23-17 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on him and defensive halfback Bob Sykes.

"Andy just gets rattled and

doesn't think in the heat of the game," Lambeau told sportswriters. "He played a bad game and so did Sykes. It wiped out a great team effort, the greatest we've made this season."

An intense competitor, Mr. Davis refrained from public comment at the time, but he was deeply hurt. He continued to play, but in the next preseason, he dislocated his shoulder three times in three exhibitions.

His last play as a Redskin, Povich wrote, was "a brilliant defensive maneuver on which he stripped the Giants' ball carrier to two blockers, and made the tackle to enforce a 2-yard loss."

He was paid his $6,000 salary for the year, but when the season ended, he became a free agent and signed with the Giants. Before the 1954 season started, he was cut.

The end of his football career didn't seem to hurt his popularity. The 6-foot, 188-pound blond modeled for Hecht's print advertisements and Sea & Ski billboards and walked a fashion-show runway for a Greater Southeast Community Hospital fundraiser.

While playing ball, he had worked on the side as a salesman and then as general manager of ABC Express, a freight-forwarding and cargo-trucking business. He eventually became an insurance salesman with the John Hancock financial services company and handled the insurance needs of C&P Telephone Co. employees. He was a member of the Million Dollar Roundtable, a distinction reserved for top agents. He retired in 1993.

Survivors include his wife of 62 years, Dorothy Davis of Silver Spring; five daughters, Andrea Davis of Bonita Beach, Fla., Suzanne Swagart of Rockville, Laurie Potter of Gaithersburg, Patty Gallagher of Rockville and Leslie Davis Blackwell of Richmond; four sisters, Marie Green of Virginia Beach, Dorothy Brown of Selbyville, Del., Betty Kelly of Annapolis and Nancy Helton of Winchester; 13 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company