VANCOUVER -- This being the Winter Olympics, the volunteer in Smurf-blue attire wondered if the young man wearing a team jacket with "Davis USA" on the back was gold medal-winning U.S. speed skater Shani Davis.
Nope. Wrong Davis. Wrong sport.
Instead, it was Vernon Davis of the San Francisco 49ers, at the Vancouver Olympic Centre in his capacity as honorary team captain for the U.S. men's side Olympic curling venue to watch the U.S. take on France for an afternoon of rock knocking. He arrived just in time, too. Davis addressed the U.S. team before its match and then watched the Americans pull out a dramatic 4-3 win on the last stone.
It was the first win for the U.S. after four defeats.
"It's an honor to be here and meet these guys," Davis said afterward. "They stepped up and took care of business. I'm proud of them. They looked great. I enjoyed it. It's my first time at the Olympics. I appreciate the whole thing."
How Davis came to be associated with the U.S. curling team is a story in itself, with San Francisco-based Associated Press reporter Janie McCauley as an unintended enabler. With the Winter Olympics coming up and assigned to cover curling, McCauley looked for an athlete in another sport to give curling a try for a story.
"... I walked up to Vernon one day. I said, 'Hey, Vernon, what if you tried this out? You're a pure athlete, let's see if you can curl.' He went for it," McCauley said.
Davis was game for a new game and on an off day in November he tried curling at Sharks Ice in San Jose. The session was recorded on AP video, a U.S. curling official saw it, the 49ers were contacted and voila! Davis was named honorary captain.
The Pro Bowl tight end arrived in Vancouver with an entourage of two, 49ers public relations assistant Lisa Goodwin and client manager Sasha Taylor of DeBartolo Sports and Entertainment.
While he's here, he'll watch another curling match, have lunch with the team at the Athletes Village, take in a speed-skating session and visit the U.S. team house.
Somewhere in there, Vernon Davis said, he'll try to meet Shani Davis.
For its match against France, the U.S. replaced its regular skip, John Shuster, with Chris Plys. Since the skip in curling is akin to quarterback in football, Davis was able to make an easy connection between the two sports.
"I related stories of our quarterback situation," Davis said. "You should always know the next guy behind is going to make plays. You got to fight through adversity. Like my coach (Mike Singletary) sat me down, told me to go to the locker room. I learned from that. It made me a better player."
Though replaced for Friday's game, Shuster was ebullient with the win and thrilled that a prominent NFL player is associated with his arcane sport.
"Awesome," Shuster said. "We got to talk to Vernon before the game. It's nice to have someone who's well respected for work ethic here. He's really excited to be here. It was good to have someone here with us. He was excited to experience this first-hand. This experience with Vernon we really appreciate."
Since becoming associated with the U.S. curling team, Davis has worked to understand the sport.
"I'm still learning," Davis said. "I respect the time and energy they put in. It's a tough sport. The time they put in, you really have to use a lot of strategy and focus. It's a big deal for me. I'm telling my family about the sport, people I grew up with. I'm explaining the sport and I don't even know what I'm explaining. The sport is exciting. I found a new sport."
When it was suggested to Davis that his skill set as an athlete would be perfect for bobsled as a push athlete with speed and power, Davis disagreed, saying, "I'll take this sport to bobsled."
When he gave curling a spin in November, Davis realized it's a lot more than a couple guys furiously sweeping brooms in front of a sliding stone.
"Have you seen the sweeps? You see the energy they put into it?" he said. "It's hard. I tried it. It's a tough sport, man. It's not as physical as football, but it's a tough sport to compete in. You have to be accurate and athletic in terms of holding your balance. It requires a lot of balance and accuracy."
It also makes as much sense as a Pro Bowl tight end leading the cheers for a sport unknown to him a few months ago.