NFL Pro Bowler Vontae Davis Went Viral for His Controversial Mid-Game Retirement in 2018

“I’ve never seen anything like that in my nine years of playing. For him to quit like that is unexplainable. You don’t quit on your teammates."

Jamie Lerner - Author

Apr. 2 2024, Published 9:38 a.m. ET

Vontae Davis during the Bills-Chargers game before he quit
Source: Getty Images

At the beginning of the NFL's 2018–2019 season, everyone was excited to see how cornerback Vontae Davis could turn around the Buffalo Bills with a $5 million one-year contract. But halfway through Game 2, he seemingly retired out of nowhere. Now in 2024, Vontae was found dead in his South Florida residence at just 35 years old.

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A storied career of nearly a decade between getting drafted by the Miami Dolphins, being traded to the Indianapolis Colts in a public humiliation on HBO’s Hard Knocks, retiring inexplicably in the middle of a game, and now passing away at such a young age, Vontae elicits a wide range of emotions from NFL fans. But why did he retire in 2018?

Vontae Davis playing for the Indianapolis Colts
Source: Getty Images
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Vontae Davis retired from the NFL because he no longer felt like himself.

When Vontae retired in the middle of a Bills-Chargers game when his team was down 28-6, his teammates and fans were understandably furious. According to an ESPN retrospective one year after his retirement, “Commentators and sportswriters questioned Vontae Davis' mental health and made jokes on social media and talk shows.”

At the time, Vontae’s teammate safety Rafael Bush told the Democrat and Chronicle, “I’ve never seen anything like that in my nine years of playing. We’re undermanned already with Phillip’s injury at the end of the half so we’re already down a man. For him to quit like that is unexplainable. You don’t quit on your teammates like that. I’m just at a loss for words.”

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While Vontae expected some of the vitriol and mocking, he didn’t want to let down his teammates. In a statement via NFL, Vontae explained his decision to leave. He said, "This isn't how I pictured retiring from the NFL. But in my 10th NFL season, I have been doing what my body has been programmed to do: Get ready to play on game day. I've endured multiple surgeries and played through many different injuries throughout my career and, over the last few weeks, this was the latest physical challenge."

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“But today on the field, reality hit me fast and hard: I shouldn't be out there anymore. I meant no disrespect to my teammates and coaches. But I hold myself to a standard. Mentally, I always expect myself to play at a high level. But physically, I know today that isn't possible, and I had an honest moment with myself. While I was on the field, I just didn't feel right, and I told the coaches, 'I'm not feeling like myself.’”

Vontae Davis playing with the Miami Dolphins
Source: Getty Images
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Vontae Davis later said that his retirement was “one of the best decisions” in his life.

Vontae realized that his time playing football was up. Maybe it would have been a better appearance for him after the fact to at least wait until the end of the game, but sometimes, when you feel something in your body, you can’t ignore that feeling. Vontae had already started dedicating himself to a wellness journey, trying to avoid painkillers and other unhealthy coping mechanisms for dealing with the pain of playing professional football. So in the case of his retirement, Vontae listened to his body.

"Most people, when I did what I did, they thought I was literally going insane or something," he told ESPN. "But I was actually fine. I was totally fine.” In the years leading up to his retirement, he had been struggling with a groin injury that later turned into surgery. This led to his place as a second-string player, but he was never a second-string man.

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“I come from very humble beginnings,” Vontae told CNN regarding how his childhood impacted his decision. "My mother was addicted to drugs, my father an alcoholic. I grew up in some very traumatic situations. I witnessed my father being shot multiple times by his brother. And when you come out of situations like that, you’re just not considered a quitter."

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"I don’t think I quit. I think I feel that, as I walk away from a game that no longer serves me mentally, physically, and emotionally. That’s what I would tell people who say I quit. Most people don’t know who I am as a person or what I’ve been through to achieve the success I have."

Now in 2024, we have no idea if his decision to retire is connected to his death somehow, whether because of mental health challenges or simply the long-term physical effects (such as CTE) of football that weighed in on Vontae’s decision to leave the NFL.

Our condolences go out to Vontae’s family, friends, and fans.

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