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Singletary had big impact on Lewis, Davis

Ravens LB, 49ers TE both say former Bears great helped make them better men

Dan Pompei

On the NFL

6:51 PM CST, February 1, 2013

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NEW ORLEANS — From his home outside Minneapolis, more than 1,000 miles from the Superdome, Vikings assistant head coach Mike Singletary will cast a large shadow on Super Bowl XLVII.

If not for him, two key players in this game might not be where they are today.

Singletary, the former Bears great, had a profound effect on 49ers tight end Vernon Davis and Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis.

When Singletary received a call from then-Ravens coach Brian Billick in 2003 to see if he wanted to be his linebackers coach, Singletary had reservations.

"(Lewis) was the last guy I wanted to coach," Singletary said. "I thought he was a brat, loud, obnoxious and all about Ray. I expected a guy with a chip on his shoulder and a knucklehead."

Singletary agreed to meet with Lewis to see if he could coach him.

"He came over in the locker room," Singletary said. "He almost was in tears. He said: 'I want to tell you, I am so thankful you are here. God sent you here for me. I want you to teach me everything you know about being a better football player and better man.' "

Singletary didn't try to change the linebacker, who already had been selected to five Pro Bowls and won a Defensive Player of the Year award.

He did, however, work with Lewis the man. They would meet once a week for an hour or longer and talk about being a father, husband and friend.

"It was really, really special," Singletary said.

Lewis counts Singletary among the men who have had a great impact on his life.

"A lot of things were away from football with Coach Singletary, about being a man and sharing with each other," he said. "Every Monday, he would come in and we would bring out the bible and he would take me over certain scriptures."

Singletary is proud of who Lewis has become.

"Ray got a gift a lot of people don't get — the gift of a second chance," he said. "I don't know what happened in Atlanta (Lewis was charged with murder, but the charges eventually were dropped). All I know is he got the opportunity to see how people really see him. He took the bull by the horns and became one of the greatest leaders of all time, and the effect he has on that team is unbelievable."

Singletary helped bring something different out of Davis.

In Singletary's head coaching debut with the 49ers in 2008, Davis was penalized for taunting. Singletary pulled him from the game. Davis objected, saying he did nothing wrong.

Singletary walked away, but Davis kept yapping to anyone who would listen about how he was being treated unfairly. Finally, Singletary sent him to the locker room.

After the game, Singletary was asked about it and said he would rather play with 10 players than with someone like Davis who was not committed to the team.

"Cannot play with them," Singletary said. "Cannot win with them. Cannot coach with them. Can't do it. I want winners."

It became a seminal event for the player and coach.

"Maybe that was the most primitive way I could have handled it," Singletary said. "But when I look back on it, sending him to the locker room was not a bad thing. We could have stood there on the sideline and we could have cursed each other out and slugged each other a couple of times. But he was being a distraction. Removing him from the scene, I thought at the time, was the right thing."

All through Super Bowl week, Davis has expressed thanks to Singletary.

"Coach Singletary, he helped me find myself," Davis said. "I can't deny it. From the very first time he got here, he always told me, 'Son, you have the tools to be great.' But I didn't know what he was talking about. I had to find that."

The day after Singletary's rant, Davis met with the coach and cried over the incident. He asked for a trade.

But then it started to sink in.

"That moment, it started to click for me," Davis said. "I said, 'I have to put my teammates first because if I don't, I'm going to lose all I have. I have to be focused and I have to be disciplined.' … It made me a better man, a better teammate and a better leader for my team. It helped me become the player I am today."

Davis became a captain and a Pro Bowler under Singletary.

And now he and Lewis are bringing lessons learned from Singletary to the game's biggest stage.

dpompei@tribune.com

Twitter @danpompei