Willie Davis was one of the NFL's strongest, quickest, and most agile defensive linemen and a team captain who helped Vince Lombardi's Packers win five championships. In addition to being enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Davis distinguished himself after his playing career by becoming one of the most respected businessmen in America. He served on the board of directors for Fortune 500 companies, taking part in various foundations, and speaking to audiences of all ages about his experiences. In this excerpt of his autobiography Closing The Gap: Lombardi, the Packers Dynasty, and the Pursuit of Excellence, Davis explores the racial dynamic of being a black player for Green Bay in the 1960s.

There were four of us black players, which was more than several other teams in the league had in their organization.

I would say that nobody had more impact in creating diversity in the NFL than Coach Lombardi. It was partly because he took a new approach, almost playing ignorant to any kind of racial tension in the league. He didn't buy into debates or arguments about his drafting, trading (or in the case of Willie Wood) letting black players walk on. Right from the start, he treated us as equals, just players competing for a spot on the team. He chose not to see color in an era where most chose to look the other way in terms of blacks. It was as if he felt the best way to fix the problem of segregation and racism in the league was to actually pretend it didn't exist -- at least to us.

The other impact he had on the issue stemmed from his success. Coach Lombardi stayed true to his belief that the best players would earn the starting positions on his Green Bay Packers team and that was final. It didn't matter what school you came from, how successful you were in college or the pros in previous years, your time and experience in the league, or your race. If you were the best man and gave him the best chance to succeed, you would earn the starting spot. With the field wide open like that, those blacks that were on the team were truly given an opportunity to let it all out and work hard. As such, many of us during the next few years became contributing players.

And we won.

It would be interesting to have seen how the issue of blacks in the league would have faired if we didn't have as much success as we did. That probably helped diversity in the league more than anything. Coach Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers had so much success during the next eight years -- adding more and more black players each season -- that the rest of the league knew they had to keep up. It was as if the owners took a look at Coach Lombardi's formula and said, "Hey, I gotta get some of those!" Pretty soon, all the teams opened up shop, allowing all positions on their teams to be earned by the best competitors.

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With 1:25 left in the third quarter of Sunday's game between the St. Louis Rams and the Green Bay Packers, St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford tossed a bomb down the left sideline intended for wide receiver Chris Givens.

Givens was running slightly ahead of Green Bay cornerback Casey Hayward, but because Bradford underthrew the ball, Hayward was in perfect position to turn and pick off the pass. It was Hayward's fourth interception of the year, tied for the most in the NFL. That statistic is impressive not just because Hayward is a rookie, but because Sunday's game was Hayward's first career start.

"They’re still going to throw the ball," Hayward said after Sunday's game. "They don’t care. They don’t care if you’re a rookie or a veteran. They’re going to throw the ball at you and you just have to be in a position to make plays."

Getting in a position to make interceptions has been Hayward's speciality since making the switch from high school quarterback to college cornerback. Despite a spectacular senior year at Perry High School in central Georgia, in which Hayward tallied 18 passing touchdowns, 18 rushing touchdowns and three interceptions returned for touchdowns, Vanderbilt was the only BCS school to offer Hayward a scholarship.

The 5-foot-11, 190 pound Hayward got on the field as a true freshman before going on to start every game over his final three years. As a senior he earned All-American honors, the first Vanderbilt player to be recognized as an All American in four years, and his 15 career interceptions are tied for the most in school history.

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As he prepared for the NFL, Hayward was held back by his mediocre speed. His 4.57 40 time at the NFL Combine was nothing special, and many wondered whether he would be able to keep up with receivers at the professional level. Concerns about his speed dropped him to the end of the second round, where Hayward was the 62nd overall pick and the fifth cornerback selected.

Hayward came into a crowded defensive backfield in Green Bay, and he understood that it might take a while for him to consistently see the field. But as it turned out, the Packers needed Hayward to produce immediately.

Green Bay's secondary has been in transition during the first half of the season, with Charles Woodson moving to safety, Davon House missing the first six games of the season with a shoulder injury and Sam Shields suffering shin and ankle injuries against Houston. Hayward got the start in Shields' place against St. Louis on Sunday, and he did not disappoint. Despite his expanded role, Hayward filled in nicely, recording the game's only interception to go along with three tackles.

"He’s a young guy that has tremendous ball skills," Woodson told the Green Bay Press-Gazette. "You see him when that ball’s in the air, he’s always in good position to get that ball. So we felt like with him having that type of game, he’d be all right."

While Hayward has performed well thus far, his fate for the rest of the season may be out of his hands. Sam Shields will likely return at some point over the next few weeks, and now that House is back and Hayward is heating up, competition to start opposite Tramon Williams is intense.

But Hayward knows this much: there's not much more he could have done to show defensive coordinator Dom Capers that he belongs

"They wanted to see how I could do with the starters, and I did well," b>Hayward said after Sunday's game. "But we have a lot of good corners. Whenever you get your opportunity, you’ve got to take advantage of it because I feel like all these guys can go out here and play."

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When Don Martini first told his wife, Janice, that he planned on building a replica of the old Giants Stadium in their garage, she called him crazy.

Now, several years and $20,000 later, the 75-year-old Martini has finished his project. And crazy as it might sound, the model has turned out to be an extremely impressive tribute that is gaining nationwide publicity. It is thought to be one of the only replicas, and almost certainly the most detailed, of Giants Stadium.

Martini spent eight hours a day for two years constructing his masterpiece, a nearly exact replica of the stadium which was torn down in 2010. Martini's 20-foot-by-17 foot stadium includes two small TVs (which play classic Giants games on loop), sponsor billboards and even tiny Gatorade jugs. It has 65,000 seats, a slight deviation from the old stadium.

"I know, there should be 80,000," Martini told The Star-Ledger. "But there’s only so much room inside."

Martini has plenty of building experience. The Blairstown, N.J., native was able to retire in his mid-50s after inventing and patenting a universal assembly jig for cabinet making. Since then he's built everything from dining room chairs to a remote control boat big enough to hold his grandchildren. At one-point he thought about creating a 40-foot replica of the Empire State Building, but was discouraged by all the permits he would need to pull off the project.

The stadium is far from Martini's only shrine to Big Blue. Indeed, the garage that holds the stadium is now decked out in Giants memorabilia. It includes autographed photos from each Super Bowl team, a wall-sized photo of the New York skyline, a stadium timeline and three cookie jars filled with blue-and-white M&Ms.

Now, Martini has to decide what he'd like to do with the stadium. He enjoys keeping it in his garage, where he can check it out whenever he wants. His son has suggested he give it to the Giants, perhaps in exchange for season tickets.

For photos of Martini and his project, see here.

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One Knee. Three successive torn ACLs. In 23 months.

Thomas Davis' most recent ligament injury occurred during Week 2 of the 2011 NFL season. While tackling Packers running back James Starks, the Panthers linebacker planted his right foot into the Bank of America Stadium turf. Panthers defensive tackle Terrell McClain collided into Davis' leg. The hit torqued his protective brace-supported right knee awkwardly.

After his knee swelled up over night, and the next day's MRI confirmed his worst fears, Davis was devastated.

"I thought … my career was over," he said. "It was like, ‘OK, this is it. I'm done. I did all I could. I gave it my best effort.'"

But the 14th overall pick in the 2005 draft talked to his wife, Kelly, and team chaplain Michael Bunkley.

They discussed how good he felt and how well he played -- despite two reconstructive surgeries -- before his injury against the Packers. He had regained his 4.4 speed in the 40 and his starting linebacker position, collecting 12 tackles in the 2011 season opener. Davis also thought about how much he loved football.

Then he met with Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, general manager Marty Hurney and head coach Ron Rivera, who said they would give him an opportunity to remain on the team in 2012.

"That was the only motivation I needed from that point on," Davis said. "That drove me."

He rehabilitated relentlessly, pushing through 10-hour days and telling the Panthers head athletic trainer, Ryan Vermillion, "We're going to make history." For 10 months he worked daily on his range of motion, strength and agility from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Panthers facility -- followed by additional at-home rehab sessions well into the night.

"That young man worked his tail off to get back to where he is right now," Panthers linebackers coach Warren Belin said. "He's an inspiration."

Completing one of the most impressive medical recoveries ever in sports, Davis played in Week 1 of the 2012 season, becoming the first player to successfully resume his NFL career after three ACL surgeries on the same leg.

***

Although Davis, 29, recorded at least 88 tackles a season while starting 46 games from 2006 to 2008, the Panthers did not want to pay an $8 million option bonus -- due in March -- to a player recovering from his third knee injury.

They restructured his contract, declining the option and dropping his base salary from $2.25 million to $700,000, the league minimum.

"The feeling that I have and the love that I have for this game," Davis said, "I honestly would go out and play this game (for) free."

He returned to the game he loves, receiving his first game action in NBC's nationally televised Sunday night contest against the Jets during Week 3 of the preseason.

On a 3rd-and-7 in the first quarter -- his very first play of 2012 -- Davis blitzed on a delay, sneaking through a crevice in the offensive line to sack Jets QB Mark Sanchez.

"It was a big boost on our sidelines," Belin said.

Davis returned to regular season action for Week 1. Still one of the fastest defenders on the team, he typically plays 20 to 25 snaps a game as a weakside linebacker in sub packages and on special teams.

Davis graded out particularly well in the Panthers' 35-27 victory against the Saints in Week 2 when his responsibilities included covering tight end Jimmy Graham and running back Darren Sproles.

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A peek at the top five rushers in the NFL through four weeks reveals several household names and one not-so-familiar one: Marshawn Lynch, Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy, Arian Foster and ... Alfred Morris?

Morris, who has perhaps taken a backseat to that other Washington Redskins rookie who lines up with him in the offensive backfield, has come bursting out of the gates this season. Through four games, Morris has rushed for 376 yards on 82 attempts. His four rushing touchdowns ties Arian Foster and Robert Griffin III for tops in the league.

While other running backs in Morris' class were more heralded coming out of college -- Trent Richardson, Doug Martin, David Wilson and more -- the Pensacola, Fla., native has relied on an unrelenting work ethic that first landed him a spot on the Redskins' roster. Eleven running backs were taken before Morris in April's NFL draft, and he has outpaced each of them.

Morris credits his parents for instilling him with a solid appreciation for hard work. His mother, Yvonne, went back to school to get a bachelor's and Master's degree while raising Morris and his six brothers.

"It just let me know that, all the things she had on top of the school work, it’s nothing too hard," Morris told the Washington Post. "If you really want it, just go out there and reach it."

Morris' father, Ronald, acted as a parent to his own siblings as well as Morris and his brothers.

"He was working construction and going to school, doing stuff like this, buying his brothers and sisters school supplies and school clothes," Morris said. "Just that hard work was instilled in us when we were growing up. I’m just trying to go out there and make them proud no matter what I do. I’m just thankful for them. They’re the fuel for my fire."

Morris played both running back and linebacker in high school, and Florida Atlantic University was the only school to offer him a scholarship. Despite not knowing exactly where Florida Atlantic was located, Morris accepted. He went on to start for three years and tally 31 touchdowns and more than 3,500 rushing yards. But at the NFL's draft in April, 172 names were called before Morris'.

Now, Morris is one of the league's rising young stars, a feat that no one expected. Well, almost no one.

"Am I surprised? Not really. Not performance-wise," Morris told the Washington Post. "Just more than anything, surprised that my opportunity came sooner than I thought it would come. But I always told myself, 'All you need is the opportunity and once you get it, you make the most of it.'"

Through it all, Morris has managed to stay true to his roots. In fact, he still drives the 1991 Mazda 626 that he picked up as a junior at Florida Atlantic.

"It has some sentimental value to it now," Morris told the Redskins' website. "It just keeps me grounded, where I came from and all the hard work for me to get to this point. So that's what helps me."

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For athletes, writing children's books has become somewhat of a pastime. Tons of current and former players have penned books for kids, including Justin Tuck, Dennis Rodman, Alex Rodriguez, the Manning brothers, Terrell Owens and more.

For some, the books are for pure amusement. But for others, like Owens, the writing has a message. In the case of the former star wide receiver, it was about learning to share.

In his debut as a children's author, New York Knicks forward Amar'e Stoudemire is advocating a powerful tool: reading. Stoudamire released two books this fall which are based on his own youth: "STAT: Home Court" and "STAT: Double Team." Stoudemire's books chronicle a young player's rise through the basketball ranks in Lake Wales, Fla. The series borrows Stoudemire's nickname, STAT (Standing Tall And Talented) for its title.

In the series, Amar'e deals with issues like bullying, friendship and responsibility. As importantly, Stoudemire hopes his books can inspire children to keep reading. The six-time NBA All-Star, who has a tattoo on his forearm that says "Read," has strongly supported educated through the Amar'e Stoudemire Foundation.

"Kids need to enjoy reading and not see it as a chore," Stoudemire said.

The third book in the series, "STAT: Slam Dunk," is due out in January.

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Players across the NFL will sport pink apparel this Sunday and throughout October as part of the NFL's partnership with National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The pink gloves, pink sleeves, pink sweatbands and more were approved by the NFL in 2009. Pink cleats were added to the approved list later that year, but only after one star running back's inspiring quest to raise awareness for the disease.

DeAngelo Williams' mom, Sandra Hill, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. The diagnosis came in the middle of Williams' junior season at Memphis, so Hill waited to tell her son. Hill, whose three sisters died of breast cancer, first tried chemotherapy and then underwent a double mastectomy. She told Williams after the surgery.

"I was a little upset with her at first," Williams told the New York Times in 2009. "Then I looked at the big picture -- she's still here, she's still fighting. She went through it without a lot of people knowing. Her detecting it early was the reason she was able to pull through it."

In the summer of 2009, with his mother's cancer in remission, Williams heard about the NFL's plan to allow players to wear pink items during the month of October. He noticed that cleats were missing from the list of approved pink items, so he asked Panthers director of community relations Riley Fields if he thought the NFL would approve of pink cleats. Fields thought it was a good idea, and he petitioned the league.

"Nothing is stronger than wearing pink on the thing that keeps you going in the National Football League and that's your cleats," Williams said. "Because if you don't have a firm foot in the ground you're going to slip. I made a suggestion to the league, well to Riley (Fields), and Riley took it to the league and they OK'd it."

Williams and teammate Muhsin Muhammed, whose mother and mother-in-law are breast cancer survivors, first wore pink cleats on Oct. 11, 2009, during the Panthers' game against the Washington Redskins.

"It's amazing to see where DeAngelo's idea has gone," Fields said in 2011. "From a simple conversation in June of 2009 to Williams said a few months later."

It didn't take long for Williams' honorable crusade to begin changing lives.

"Pink is not just a color," Williams told the Charlotte Observer last year. "It's a lifesaver. It's awareness. So when people see pink they want to ask questions and they want to follow up. I had a lady stop me and said just because of what I saw during the game, meaning the color, (she) was going to get examined. I asked her does it run in your family. She said no but just because I support that cause I'm going to go out and make sure I'm OK. I walked off like, whew, if we reach one, we reach millions. If we reach millions we're doing our job."

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College athletic programs are always looking to get ahead. And especially now, in an age of perhaps unprecedented parity across major collegiate athletics, coaches are willing to try anything that they think will give their program even the slightest edge.

And in recent years, one training trend has become increasingly apparent at major programs across the country. These teams are leaving the traditional weight room setting for an untraditional workout run by the country's finest, the Navy SEALs.

Different schools have formed unique partnerships with the SEALs. Michigan, for example, had 22 players attend leadership training run by the Navy SEALs in California. Michigan coach Brady Hoke formed a relationship with the San Diego SEALs during his time at San Diego State, and he's remained close ever since.

"To watch the kids grow and see how they treat their teammates and influence their teammates is fun to watch," Hoke told ESPN.com in May. "If they run the locker room, we're going to be OK. If I have to run the locker room, we're going to be in trouble."

For other teams, the workouts were unexpected. The VCU basketball team and Northwestern football team each had "surprise" training sessions with the SEALs.

Last week, the Maryland basketball team took part in workouts organized by a former Navy SEAL. As with many of the other training sessions, these workouts emphasized leadership and team building as well as physical fitness.

Before college athletes were training with the Navy SEALs, the SEALs had formed a strong partnership with the U.S. Olympic Committee. A group of U.S. Olympic Training Center employees formulated the idea in 2004, as a group of Olympic athletes trained in Chula Vista, Calif. The SEALs' San Diego headquarters is just about 10 miles north. The SEALs worked with a plethora of athletes, including swimmers, rowers, speed skaters and water polo players.

Jim Bauman, a staff psychologist at U.S. Olympic Training Center, said the Olympains had a lot to learn from the Navy SEALs.

"We'd have great athletes show up and implode when it was time to perform," Bauman told ESPNW. "I was very impressed how mentally different those guys were."

The SEALs aren't the only servicemen taking out time to train athletes. Other college football programs, like Oregon and Syracuse, have implemented similar boot camp-style workouts with the Marines and the Army.

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Al Davis was a maverick and a pioneer whose Hall of Fame career included stints as head coach, general manager, league commissioner and controlling partner of the Oakland Raiders franchise. Davis died on Oct. 8, 2011, from heart failure. He was 82. A new authorized biography, Just Win, Baby: The Al Davis Story, by veteran sportswriter Murray Olderman, takes a closer look at Davis behind the scenes. One of Davis' legacies was helping businessmen break into the sports ownership game. This excerpt details how he brought some of the most prominent owners to the table:

The man who had the greatest influence on Davis' life as a team owner in professional sports was someone he never met. In the book, Veeck as in Wreck, by Ed Linn, baseball owner Bill Veeck laid it all out for Davis, how to buy a team with very little money. Davis claimed the book, a big instrument in his life, "taught me about partnerships." It taught him about appreciation of property.

His knowledge of the tax laws and how to buy teams influenced acquaintances to become sports owners: Jerry Reinsdorf of the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Bulls, Alex Spanos of the San Diego Chargers, Ed DeBartolo Jr. of the San Francisco 49ers, and the Glazers of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (they originally tried to get Baltimore but were steered away, according to Davis, because Neil Austrian, the NFL business manager, didn't want them there -- Austrian resigned when some files were uncovered in which he vilified league owners as dumb people). Davis asserted he gave Carroll Rosenbloom the idea that he could trade his Baltimore Colts for the Los Angeles Rams and pay no taxes, and Davis advised him on the novel exchange of franchises.

Alex Spanos, a huge mall developer based in Stockton, California, let it be known that he wanted to consult the best mind in football to get a professional team. Alex contacted Davis through Paul Christopoulos, who was a prominent figure in the Greek community in California's San Joaquin Valley. Christopoulos was instrumental in building the Arco Arena for the Sacramento Kings. Sacramento interests pursued the Raiders and offered the team $50 million and a new stadium to move there. Christopoulos was selling increments of development land in the arena area, and Davis bought a parcel that he never touched but retained ownership of. He never considered Sacramento seriously as a home for his team.

Paul Christopoulos called Davis and said, "Alex Spanos wants to go to the top of the mountain. He wants to meet you." Spanos arrived one day at the Raiders' headquarters, at the time in an industrial park in Oakland off Doolittle Avenue; he was accompanied by five staff members—they used to take a consensus vote on every project Spanos undertook. Davis informed him that the San Francisco 49ers were available for $17 million and baseball's Oakland A's could be had for about $10 million. Spanos and staff huddled on the spot and passed on both opportunities. However, he later acquired the San Diego Chargers from Gene Klein for a sum estimated to be between $75 and $80 million. "Alex and I always sat close to each other at league meetings," said Davis. "Once I came into the room, and his son, Dean, was there. I said to Alex, 'You know, you can get [$400 million] for your team now.' He turned around and went, whack, to Dean's head. 'Listen to Al,' the father said. ‘He knows what he's talking about.'" Dean took over the operating reins of the Chargers from his father.

Spanos brought another entrepreneur to see Davis during an offseason respite at the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas. His friend was from Chicago and involved in syndicated real estate. He and Spanos did a lot of business together. Davis found out that the man, Jerry Reinsdorf, was from his high school in Brooklyn, Erasmus Hall. Davis related that he went to a blackboard and showed Reinsdorf how he could own 10 percent of a team, be the general partner, get five or six limited partners, or maybe eight, each owning 10 percent, and he'd control the whole thing. Bill Veeck laid out the basics for Davis in his book.

"Wow," said Reinsdorf, "I never knew that."

Reinsdorf went on to buy both the Chicago Bulls and the Chicago White Sox. Just before he closed the deal on the baseball team, he called Davis for his opinion. Davis said, "Don't worry about the price. Do it. It'll double in value within two or three years."

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Nick Kleckner is finally home. The California native is finally back home after spending half a year walking across the country. He started in Atlantic Beach, Florida, and finished in Huntington Beach, California. Along the way, he picked up the nickname "Hobo Nick," went through five pairs of shoes and collected an arsenal of stories to tell.

The 25-year-old Kleckner worked as an electrician and cab driver in northern California before dropping everything and buying a one-way ticket to Florida.

"It was a combination that was weighing down on me," Kleckner told the Daily Dot. "It built up, and I got to that point where I couldn't deal with everything anymore. I felt a lot of pressure, stress, and anxiety and decided to get out."

He began his journey on April 5 outside of Jacksonville with a backpack and an iPod touch. Before leaving, Kleckner purchased eight months of Internet service for his iPod. That way he could tweet and send blog posts to his mother, who manned Kleckner's website.

During his walk, Kleckner slept wherever he could find space, and his homeless existence led to the "Hobo Nick" nickname. It didn't hurt that Kleckner's impressive beard rivaled Tom Hanks' facial hair during Hanks' portrayal of Forrest Gump, who made a cross-country journey of his own.

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Kleckner blogged constantly about his journey, offering insights into his whereabouts and also his emotional development. On August 29, Kleckner described the feeling of bathing in hot water for the first time in weeks:

"I can't describe the feeling I had to be clean and fresh. Something that I have never appreciated so much in life. Things like this are really put into perspective. We are so lucky to have little things like this but a lot of the times are just so accustomed to them that we don't appreciate them. We have evolved past why we really do things. Sometime a long time ago, showers were few and far between and were something that was actually used for protecting your skin and body. But since they feel good and make you fresh, we indulge which is not wrong in any way, but by showering so much and routinely we lose the true appreciation of what it does."

One of Klecker's goals on his journey was to give more than he received. Whenever he got money, food or other gifts along the way, he tried to pass them along to homeless people, which is what he did for the last time just arriving at Huntington Beach, where his family and dozens of other people were waiting for him.

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