BALTIMORE -- Milt Davis, an All-Pro defensive back who helped the Baltimore Colts win two NFL championships in the 1950s, has died. He was 79.
He died of cancer in Oregon on Monday, the Baltimore Ravens said.
Davis spent four seasons with the Colts (1957-60) and led the NFL in interceptions in 1957 and 1959. He played a key role on the 1958 team that beat the New York Giants 23-17 in overtime for the title. In the championship game, Davis played with two broken bones in his right foot and forced a first-half fumble by Frank Gifford.
That year, Davis earned $7,000 as the Colts' right cornerback. After two more seasons, he was done with football. He was angered at racism against black players and eager to finish work on his doctorate at UCLA, where he played in college.
Davis was born on an Indian reservation near Muskogee, Okla., to parents of African-American and Native American ancestry.
"Aside from being a great football player, he was a man that knew about life issues and knew how to deal with it," Colts great Lenny Moore told the Los Angeles Times. "He was a beacon. ... He was incredibly respected, both with the white players and the black players."
In 1954, Davis was drafted by the Detroit Lions -- and the Army. After two years of military service, Davis joined the Lions but said he was told, "We don't have a black teammate for you to go on road trips, therefore you can't stay on our team."
Davis got a tryout with the Colts in 1957 and signed as a 28-year-old free agent. He had 10 interceptions as a rookie, returned two for touchdowns and made The Associated Press' All-Pro team.
Davis had seven interceptions during the 1959 season, and the Colts beat the Giants again in the NFL title game. When he retired he had 27 interceptions in 45 games.
"Milt Davis occupies a prominent place in Colts history," Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay said. "He was a very sturdy defensive back who started the 1958 and 1959 NFL championship games for the club. He is remembered among the many notable names in Colts history."
After his playing days, Davis scouted college players for NFL teams. He taught high school in the Los Angeles area before working as a natural history professor at Los Angeles City College from 1964-89. In 1989, he and his wife, Yvonne, retired and moved to Oregon.
In addition to his wife and daughter Allison, Davis also is survived by another daughter, Hilary, and a son, Brian.