CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It was fitting in so many ways that outside linebacker Thomas Davis recovered the onside kick on Sunday that secured the Carolina Panthers' ticket to the NFC Championship Game against the Arizona Cardinals.
First, nobody wants to get to and win a Super Bowl more than the 32-year-old Davis, who with 11 seasons under his belt has been on the roster longer than any Carolina player. He wants it so badly that he said the Panthers' 15-1 regular-season record would mean nothing without a title.
Then there's the ribbing Davis takes from teammates during every Saturday walk-through, when he runs out as a member of the "hands" team.
Linebackers typically are on this unit to block, not recover the kick.
"They joke about it all the time," Davis said after the 31-24 victory against two-time defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks. "The first time I actually went out there [in practice], everybody was like, 'What's TD doing out there? We want somebody with hands?' [It's] just knowing in that situation I'm going to give everything I have to this team to come away with the football."
Quarterback Cam Newton might be the face of the Panthers, but Davis is the soul.
Four years ago, he became the first NFL player to successfully return from three ACL surgeries on the same knee. Last year, he won the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award.
This year, Davis made his first Pro Bowl after being shunned in favor of outside linebackers in a 3-4 scheme who rack up sacks.
So for Davis to make the biggest play on a day when it appeared Seattle might erase what was left of a 31-0 deficit was huge.
He went about three feet up in the air to catch the ball after it took a high bounce. On the way down, he took a hard hit to the right knee that had been repaired three times.
"Who cares?" asked Davis, in his first season on the hands team. "I don't even think about that knee. It was all about securing that football."
The play came with 71 seconds remaining in the game. The Panthers were ready after watching film of Seattle successfully recovering an onside kick in last year's NFC Championship Game against the Packers. Green Bay's Brandon Bostick was supposed to block but instead went after the ball and mishandled it. The Seahawks recovered and ultimately won in overtime.
That's why, when asked if it was appropriate that Davis recovered, Carolina coach Ron Rivera replied, "The best thing was everybody else did their job."
"So he was the one that should have recovered it," Rivera added. "He did a heck of a job of holding on to the ball and going to the ground."
That led to three kneel-downs by Newton, who followed it up with a celebration lap around the stadium, high-fiving fans.
In a jubilant locker room, there was more ribbing of Davis.
"We keep giving him crap about it every time he's on special teams on Saturdays," cornerback Josh Norman said. "We're like, 'Thomas can't catch' -- just playing with him. Look at him. He ends up sealing the game for us with his hands. You've got to give him justification for that."
Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery offered his take.
"That's just the guy that he is," Cotchery said of Davis. "The guy's been through it all, and these moments like this, he cherishes. Of course he's going to rise up in these type of moments."
But what Davis ultimately wants to raise up is the Lombardi Trophy.