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Monday, November 18, 2013
The finish line

By Chris Jones
ESPN The Magazine

Jones Illo
From the Marathon to the World Series, Ed Davis had an eventful seven years as police commissioner.

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's Nov. 25 QB Issue. Subscribe today!

DURING THE SIXTH inning of Game 6, Ed Davis ducked out of Fenway Park, leaving behind the warmth and the lights and the noise. By then, it looked as though the Red Sox were going to win their first World Series at home since 1918, and Davis, Boston's 57-year-old police commissioner, needed to get back to the command post that had been set up in anticipation. He could feel the ballpark swelling, close to bursting, and soon the streets would be overfilled too. The last time Davis had felt that kind of human buoyancy, that almost electrical surge, was back in April, a baseball season and a lifetime ago, when he was at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. He wanted a different ending for his city this time.

Davis had already announced that he was leaving the job -- in fact, he was just two days away from his retirement, like the old Irish cop in the movies, when the Red Sox were three innings away from their own eternity. He had been the commissioner for seven years and on a police force for 35, starting as a beat cop in nearby Lowell, foot soldier to brass. Big and deep-voiced, Davis can seem like a character spun from fiction, from Scorsese, and he did especially during this hard-to-fathom year of tragedies and blessings. When he remembers the last few months, they don't seem real even to him.

"I think about it every day," he says of the Marathon and its aftermath. He had been minding the governor that morning, and they had left not long before the bombings. Davis was on a conference call with Vice President Joe Biden, talking about gun control, when he heard there had been an explosion. He arrived on the scene quickly enough to see victims still stretched out on the pavement. "I saw two bodies at the Forum restaurant," he says. "The little Richard boy, and Lingzi Lu, the student." The scale of the carnage sent the commissioner reeling for a moment, and he worried about another bomb going off, aimed at the responders. But surrounded by so much blood, he soon set his mind to finding who spilled it.

After three mostly sleepless days and nights, Davis was standing in the mass of officers around that infamous boat, watching Dzhokhar Tsarnaev come out from under a tarp. "It was a moment of relief," Davis says. He'd been dejected only an hour before, fearing that the younger Tsarnaev had somehow squeezed through the police lines that Davis had ordered set up. By the time he found himself in that Watertown backyard, he had been awake for 37 or 38 hours, and if the scene looked strange on TV, it seemed otherworldly to Davis and his tired eyes. "It was almost hard to believe," he says, "that this was unfolding in our city."

A far happier brand of improbable provided the finish for Boston's long summer and Davis' career. He had been in the Red Sox clubhouse during the ALCS and felt then that they were destined to win; he had been watching when one of his officers, Steve Horgan, became famous for his bullpen celebration after David Ortiz's fate-turning grand slam. "I wasn't too upset when Steve threw his arms in the air," Davis says with a laugh. "I was pretty happy with him."

Then came the World Series, and then came Game 6, the foregone conclusion. Davis saw the Red Sox celebrate from his perch inside that command post. Later he decided to wade out into the streets he knows so well, taking it all in until the early hours of the morning. "It was a very special night," he says. "There was no better way to go out."

After his last day on the job, Davis enjoyed a living Irish wake at the Shamrock in Southie, the least surprising page of this script. He's already working as a consultant for Community Resources for Justice, a halfway house operator, and he'll begin a fellowship at Harvard in January. But mostly, he's ready to be a spectator rather than a participant, at least for a spell. He's ready to look out from a crowd rather than into it. He's already making plans to attend Opening Day at Fenway, and he'll be cheering at the end of the Marathon too. "From the depths of despair to this," Ed Davis says, and you can almost hear the wonder in his voice, that this was his part to play.

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