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Niners' Davis needed to become a winner to reach potential

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- On the night of Mike Singletary's infamous "I want winners!" postgame press conference last season, tight end Vernon Davis went home and laid his head on his pillow, contemplating what had transpired.

Davis didn't exactly understand why things went to the extreme.

"He didn't have to blow it out of proportions and go that crazy," Davis said. "But he had his reasons."

Davis had received a personal foul penalty when he slapped a Seahawks defender in the face during the third quarter of a 21-point home defeat to Seattle. And with that nonsense, Singletary made an example of Davis, sending him to the showers before the game was even over.

After the game, the now-legendary tongue-lashing directed at Davis ensued.

"I would rather play with ten people and just get penalized all the way until we gotta do something else rather than play with 11 when right now that person is not sold out to be a part of this team," Singletary went on to say that day. "I told him he would do a better job for us to take a shower and watch the game on the sidelines rather than take the field."

Those words didn't originally sit well with Davis. But as the first-time Pro Bowler reflects on it now, he sees it differently.

"I needed it. Because when I first came into the league, I thought it was all about me," Davis said. "It made me humble."

It was certainly the catapult to a career year for Davis, who had his coming out party in 2009.

Davis had 78 catches for 965 yards and a 49ers-record 13 touchdowns. No tight end in NFL history had ever led the league in receiving touchdowns until Davis shared the top spot with Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald this year.

Finally, Davis has silenced his critics -- and there were many -- who had bashed him for being an impressive physically gifted athlete who couldn't reach his potential. Until now, the "bust" label was being slapped on the former first-rounder and sixth overall draft pick of 2006.

Not that Davis ever worried about it.

"I was still learning and getting better," Davis said. "That wasn't really a big thing to me, because I knew at one point that I was going to be the best."

Maybe all Davis needed was a leader to inspire him, someone intense like a Hall of Fame linebacker turned head coach such as Singletary. Sure seems to have done the trick.

"I think having somebody come in like coach Singletary really helped Vernon out a lot," 49ersPro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis said, "because he did not accept anything but Vernon's best, regardless of the situation. Vernon needed somebody to hold him accountable for something."

Since Davis has responded, his relationship with Singletary has manifested into a strong bond.

"Yeah, man, he gained a great deal of respect," Davis said. "You know, we've been like best friends. Everything he says, I listen and I take it in well. I know he's on my side -- got my back."

And with his coach's support, Davis has all the confidence he needs to maintain his level of excellence.

"It's going to keep happening," Davis said. "As long as I get the opportunities that I had this year, we're gonna keep this going. I'm only scratching the surface."

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