Born in Tennessee, Charles Davis moved to New Paltz, NY as a young child. Davis would go on to become a three sport star at New Paltz High School where he starred as quarterback, defensive back and kicker on the football team. After being named All-State in his junior and senior seasons, Davis chose to continue his football career at the University of Tennessee, as a defensive back.
At Tennessee, Davis found action in all four of his collegiate seasons where he totaled 234 tackles and 13 interceptions. After going undrafted in the 1987 NFL Draft, he spent training camp with the Dallas Cowboys but was ultimately cut by the team and never saw NFL action. However, this was not the end of Charles Davis’ story in football.
After some time away from football, Davis found himself an opportunity to get into broadcasting and took full advantage. Stints at networks such as Fox Sports Florida and Big Ten Network, set up further advancement for Davis who went on to be an in-game college football analyst for Fox. In 2016, Davis and play-by-play man Brandon Gaudin, were chosen to replace Jim Nantz and Phil Simms as the announcers for the popular Madden video game series. Then, starting with the 2017 season, Davis became a full-time NFL in-game analyst for Fox, joining Kevin Burkhardt in the booth each Sunday.
As he continues these two roles, Davis is additionally a mainstay for NFL Draft coverage on NFL Network, which includes analysis of the NFL Combine, the Senior Bowl and the draft itself. As he is the first analyst to be in a two-man NFL booth with no NFL playing or coaching experience in over 50 years, his path wasn’t a very likely one but Charles Davis has become a household name in the world of sport broadcasting and is considered one of nicest and most genuine people within the industry.
TYLER BENENATI: First off, you obviously played at a pretty high level in college, what made you want to go into media and broadcasting?
CHARLES DAVIS: It’s something I thought about when I was a kid actually, and thought it would be fun to do. Then, I did a little bit of it while I was in college, very small stuff for our college TV station, I did some interviews and other things but by no means was it anything anyone would look at go “Wow he should do this for a living!” So I did a little bit of that and then I got out of college and started working and as much as I wanted to do it, you know once you start working it’s hard to get back to maybe what your goal is, if you don’t really go after it and emphasize it. And so, I worked for a living for a long time, and then got into it by a fluke. A friend of mine, who I had gone to college with, had given my name to a TV executive with Fox Sports South in Atlanta and said “Hey, he’s never done this stuff before but I think he’d be a pretty good analyst and you should give him a try.” The guy had my name for two years and then got jammed up and said “Oh my god I got some games coming up and can’t fill them”, and just by chance came across my name and asked if I’d be interested in doing two games to start the season in 1997 and that’s how the whole thing started. Once I got into the two games, I wanted to do more so I just kept working in, working in, talking to people, hoping they’d give me an opportunity and you know how it goes, once you get an opportunity, and you hit it and keep hitting it, they might give you a chance to do some more and that’s what happened with me.
TB: Was there a moment where you thought to yourself like “Wow I might actually be good at this and can make a career out of it”?
CD: Oh boy, I think that I did those first two football games and then I talked to a person locally, I lived in Orlando, Florida and am still there, and there was a station called Sunshine Network, which is now Fox Florida I believe, and I talked to the general manager and the executive producer and I said “You know, I could do more than football”, I had done those two football games and he was like “yeah, right” and so I begged him for a chance to do more stuff, and I said “I could do basketball, I know I can”. And so finally he said “alright I’ll tell you what, I’m gonna give you this exhibition game, Florida State Men’s Basketball, they’re playing an exhibition game” against, I think the name of the team was the Converse Around-The-World All-Stars, he said “it’s on Halloween night, it’s homecoming for Florida State, and we’ll do the game live at midnight.” How great is that, giving me a chance on something that no one is going to be watching, and so he knew if I did horrendously, it was no big deal. And the deal was he’d give me the one shot and I said, “Well you have to watch it, grade it, critique it, and then we’ll go from there”, and he said “deal.” So I did that game and turned out, it was a Saturday night and then on Monday I got a call at my job from him and he said “Alright break out your appointment book, I’ve got thirteen games for you.” And that’s when I thought to myself, “hey if I can work it, then maybe I’ve got a chance to be okay.” Obviously I broke through with him and you know, long way to go, but that was probably the first time, I thought to myself, “Hey this might, maybe possibly” and “let’s just see where it goes”. Because he could’ve very easily said “Alright dude, thanks for the try”, but he gave me thirteen games then and next thing I knew, I was starting to get more and more work and it went on from there.
TB: Well now, twenty years later, you’re a full-time in-game analyst for Fox, and you do NFL Draft coverage for NFL Network, do you have a preference between the two?
CD: I love games, because for me the games are paramount as far as I’m concerned. That’s what I live for and you know, to be able to call games during the season and then last year calling my first NFL playoff game, and you know when I was doing college football or the NFL or whatever it was, anything that’s a live game is more fun for me than doing anything else. Don’t get me wrong, the draft’s great and it has its charms but if you ask me, I’ll take live games over that any day. You know, it’s almost for me like it’s live football vs fantasy football, because the draft is fantasy football, until it turns into live football, but you never have the context of the draft, there’s not a winner or a loser in the draft, you think there is, but we won’t know that for 3-5 years in how they play, and that’s for each individual team, not two teams playing against each other so I’ll definitely every single time say live games.
TB: The draft was broadcast on three or four different networks, why do you think it has become such a TV spectacle?
CD: Oh I think because, if you’re a fan, you’re a fan of a team and most of us are a fan of a team within the idea that we’re fans of the sport. So you know, you’re a fan of football, “well who’s your team”, “my team’s the Giants”. We all think, and in today’s world, fans have more information at their fingertips as ever before. I mean, it’s a 24/7 news-cycle as you know, and when I was younger and a broadcaster, we had one major advantage over fans, that they just couldn’t solve; and that was we had access to the game tape the coaches and players watch, what is called ‘All 22’, which means on every play you see all twenty-two players, and you can see what they do on each shot. Whereas on TV, you don’t get All 22, so fans could always say, “Hey I like this or that guy”, but our ultimate trump card was “yeah but I saw the All 22 and saw six games and this is what I saw”, and they couldn’t fight what we saw. Well guess what, they have access to All 22 now, so it doesn’t matter whether you think you’re smarter than the average fan. Hey, they’ve likely seen games and watch the 22, and they’re giving you a full breakdown. I think the bottom line is, every fan, every person that’s interested feels like they have enough information that they can give, not educated, a real true breakdown on teams and what they should do, who the best players are, who should be drafted, and all of that, and I think that really helps fuel the popularity. Kinda like, whenever I have to do a mock draft, and I turn in my mock draft, and it goes out on NFL Network, there’s a ton of comments, good, bad and indifferent. A lot of it is just simply, “he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, I know this team better than he does, I watch them every day, blah blah blah.” I get where they’re coming from, I absolutely do, and I think that helps fuel the popularity. Now people are doing it for their fantasy football leagues, they’re doing it because they love their team, a lot of it is simply they feel like they can do the exact same job, as the people who are doing the job, and of course they think they can do it better, which I get. They think so and they think “hey I can be a GM and watch pro-days and I can see the combine, I can look at their measurables, I can watch game tape from when they were college and I can make a valued and decided opinion on whether that kid can play or not, so there you go Mr. Announcer.” And I feel like that really does fuel the popularity of it, and it just continues to grow and grow.
TB: Getting back to in-game announcing, you’ve called the BCS National Championship, the Appalachian State upset, among others, is there a game that stands out as a favorite?
CD: Yeah I think the first game ever on Big Ten Network, actually I think the first ever thing on Big Ten Network was Appalachian State/Michigan. I called that game with Thom Breneman and Charissa Thompson and that was unbelievable. You know here’s Michigan, a top five team preseason, but what people forget is that Appalachian State had won two straight national championships in FCS, which they called 1-AA at the time, and they had a really good team. Still, to beat mighty Michigan, at Michigan, that was huge. Then the second game was probably the Oklahoma/ Boise State game in the Fiesta Bowl. That was mammoth in all the thrills and chills and spills and tricks down the stretch by Boise State to get that done, that was pretty sensational. Now, I’ve called a ton of NFL games, to switch it up, and last year I called my first playoff game. That was a blast being able to call that one, New Orleans hosting the Philadelphia Eagles. Put it all together, and I don’t like to rate too many above each other because they’re all terrific, but those would probably be ones that people would pick out.
TB: If you had the choice, would you call a college game or an NFL game?
CD: I love them both and I know I’m straddling the fence on that but they both have their particular charms. You know the thing about calling a college game is that you got the marching bands, and the crowd and how they get revved up for it, it’s pretty cool. Each school has its own traditions that, when you’re on campus, you see, feel and hear, and those touches are great. An NFL game has a different type of energy, but it has its energy nonetheless, and it is a lot of fun. I will say this, an NFL game will run closer to the time-frame that you’re desiring for TV because of the rules and how they play the game and there’s no getting around it, it’s a more skillfully played game, because it’s the best of the best at all positions for all teams. Now remember, every guy playing on Sunday is an NFL player, but in college, like myself, we’re college players and very few are NFL players. So, the better game is the NFL game in terms of skill, but that doesn’t change the excitement for both of them, and I think you can get it in both. I mean, wherever they send me, I’m happy.
TB: You mentioned working that Appalachian State game with Thom Breneman, I remember you used to work with Gus Johnson and now you’re with Kevin Burkhardt, is there a play-by-play guy, in particular, that you haven’t worked with yet but would like to at some point?
CD: You know, I love every single one of the guys you mentioned, they were all terrific. Mike Tirico, I think is as good as it gets out there, I think that Al Michaels is legendary, Joe Buck, I love Joe Buck, I know him best as a person out of all of those guys. There are a lot of really good play-by-play guys out there, so who wouldn’t want to work with some of the legends. There are a lot of other good ones out there as well, but I’ll be frank, I am lucky to be with Kevin now and was fortunate to be with Gus and Thom before him, I’ve got zero complaints, I could work with those guys any time.
TB: I’ve got one last question for you, if you could give any advice to someone who wants to get into either broadcasting or writing or any kind of sport media, what would you tell them?
CD: Know your subject matter thoroughly. And I mean from A to Z, from the roots to where you are presently, know what made it up, know how you got there with that sport, know what drives it, what makes it popular, know all the leading people in the sport, from all the different eras. You know, all of those things, it’s like being ready for your final exam. Know your subject matter thoroughly, because that’ll give you the confidence in whatever it is you need to do otherwise and whatever else you need to write, analyze or talk about. Those are the biggest things, know everything you can about your subject matter, and then know how to relate it to the context of where you are with that sport and then how you’re calling it or writing about it that day. How does it relate to the past, how does the past relate to now, don’t force anything, but are there any parallels, is there a context you take away from it that you’re able to illuminate, all of those.