One of the first moves of the Rich Kotite era occurred during the 1991 Draft. The Eagles switched first-round picks with Green Bay - moving from the 20th spot overall to the 8th - while also sending a first-round choice in the 1992 Draft to the Packers, in order to select offensive tackle Antone Davis.
“When Philadelphia traded for the pick, I was really pumped,” said Davis, an All-America at Tennessee. “I’m going to a team that’s got a fantastic defense, a fantastic offense and I get to go be a part of that.”
Davis did indeed get to be a part of it. However, it was anything but stress free.
“The players kept telling me I was the missing puzzle piece, and I began to feel pressure when I heard that," Davis said. "If you watch most offensive linemen, very few come in and really have an impact immediately. I began to think they’re going to put me in right now. The flipside of that is you are a first-round pick, they expect you to play. It just comes with the job, I guess.”
Something else that came with Davis’ new job was that he’d be facing future Hall of Fame defensive end Reggie White every day in practice.
“That was very, very defeating at times. Reggie was one of those guys that just did whatever he wants. He was so strong. Although you never get a victory against the guy, you know you’re learning,” Davis said. “Reggie would always give me a pep talk right before games. He’d say, ‘The guy you’re going up against is not nearly as good as me, and you blocked me in practice a lot. So you go out there and do well.’ I loved being around Reggie, and I loved learning from him.”
As enjoyable as that was for Davis, he had a fair share of days that were less so, and ended up spending just five seasons with the Eagles. How could things have worked out better for him in Philadelphia?
“I can tell you I wish that I had played better. I wish that I had given the game as much as it gave me. Having said that, I had Bill Walsh as an offensive line coach; then the following year, Bill Muir; and then right after that I had Bill Callahan," Davis said. "So you go through three different offensive line coaches. In front of people who don’t know, you might think, ‘The system is the system. Everything’s the same.’ Well, almost every offensive line coach will have a different philosophy to how they approach blocks and what they need you to do.
“When you have those kinds of changes it can really throw you off. It’s like starting over, and then stopping, and then starting over. And if you just look at the history, most players, it takes two or three years to really jell into a system. And if that system’s constantly changing, you’re going to struggle.
“And then not only that, if you watch most teams now, typically they’re going to block with their five linemen, and then they’re going to get help. They’re going to have a back chip block a defensive end. The tight end is going to stay in a couple of times to help block. I got none of that from Rich Kotite. I was kind of on an island. And I think that was unfortunate. Because I was a first-round pick, I was expected to be able to block the Hall of Famers that I’m going up against. And the fact of the matter is no matter who you are that may not necessarily take place without a little bit of help. Especially in the beginning.”
Following two seasons with Atlanta, Davis retired in 1998 and got a Series 7 license to work with investments and insurance. After that, he bought and sold real estate, including a restaurant, which was unsuccessful. Last fall, Davis stepped back into the spotlight as a contestant on the NBC television show "The Biggest Loser."
“It turns out I’m just by nature a stress eater,” said Davis. “If I have things that are not going well, I turn to some type of comfort food. I think being a stress eater in a restaurant that’s not doing well is the recipe for disaster. And so my weight crept up and before I knew it I was over 400 pounds. It wasn’t until I was 476 pounds ... I remember getting on a scale and looking at myself going, ‘You’re 24 pounds away from 500.’ It just blew me away. I didn’t physically think I could actually get that big, but I was 476 pounds. I’ll never forget it.
“That coupled with Reggie White passing away, Harry Galbreath passing away, all these NFL offensive and defensive linemen passing away; I started looking closer to home. I realized there are actually seven guys that were former (college) teammates of mine that all passed away. All younger and all lighter than me. So here I am the heaviest guy, and the oldest guy, and I’m not dead yet. I think it was just a reality check. If you don’t do something, you are going to die. There are no ifs, ands or buts.
“And so we got this email saying they are interested in finding some former athletes, and I auditioned for the show. I sent in a video, and a little bio about myself, and a couple photos, and then I got the call to come to L.A.”
Arriving last June at The Biggest Loser ranch in Calabasas, Calif., at 447 pounds, Davis began the competition confident that as a former professional athlete, he’d have an advantage over the 14 other competitors, lose the highest percentage of weight and win the $250,000 grand prize. Easier said than done.
“It wasn’t what I expected at all. I’ve done two-a-days for six weeks in training camp. This will be no big deal. Well, come to find out, we do four-a-days at this place,” laughed Davis. “Our workouts were eight hours. And when I say eight hours, I mean eight hours of actual activity. And it would typically take us 12 hours to get those eight hours of work done. So it literally was like a job.”
It literally was also on-the-job training. Over six months, Davis, who ran a marathon during that time, lost over 200 pounds, and tipped the scale during the show’s finale at 245. And even though he finished second, Davis still left the competition as a winner.
“It has changed my life in so many ways. How I feel physically, my health, all my blood values, it’s incredible,” Davis said. “I came in with high blood pressure, and now I have no issues with blood pressure. High risk for stroke, and I have no risk for stroke. No more than any average person. You name it. The elements are gone. I’m just able to do things. It was almost like it opened up a whole new world. I’m able to fit into clothes that I couldn’t fit in since I was 14 years old. It still doesn’t seem real, but it absolutely is real.”
Davis hopes that he can share what he learned with other former players who are facing the same weight and health challenges that he did.
“We’re trying to put together a program to try to help guys because a lot of people don’t know the average life expectancy of offensive and defensive linemen in the NFL is about 52 years," Davis said. "I have to attribute it primarily to the body size. Most guys, just like me, once you leave the league you just kind of fall by the wayside doing your own thing. Working out is not the forefront.
“We’re trying to approach the NFLPA. We have plans hopefully to approach the NFL, and individual teams if we have to. We hope that people recognize that there is a serious need to help these guys get their weight under control. I understand (the current players) need the bulk to be able to play. I get that. But you also need that help and that new life lesson on how you’re going to live the rest of your life once you’re done.”