SANTA CLARA, Calif. —** As the Broncos finished the final leg of their travel to Santa Clara, the five-bus convoy made its final turn to arrive at their hotel and in doing so, passed a small group of fans.
A few of them had signs, but the most eye-catching one simply read "Welcome home, Vernon!"
For tight end Vernon Davis, who spent the entirety of his career in San Francisco before coming to Denver in a midseason trade, the trip back to the Bay Area was an emotional one, and it came on the day of his 32nd birthday, no less.
"At first it seemed surreal, and I just had to gather myself for a moment and just think about the opportunity that I have here," Davis said. "It's an amazing opportunity, it's going to be a great experience—I can feel it—and I'm just very, very thankful that I had a chance to get traded to Denver for this particular reason."
It was in the aftermath of the Broncos' AFC Championship victory over New England a week ago that Davis first realized that he would be returning to the area where his professional football career began, and the opportunity to reach the sport's pinnacle here is something he relishes.
"It couldn't get any better than that," Davis said on Thursday. "I wouldn't trade it for anything. I'm very pleased, thankful and excited all at the same time for the opportunity to go in and experience this year's Super Bowl at Levi's Stadium."
San Francisco and the Bay Area hold a special place in Davis' heart for personal and professional reasons. It's where he flourished on the field and off it, cultivating meaningful relationships inside the team and in the community that supported him for 10 years.
The scene as the Broncos arrived at the San Jose Airport for Super Bowl 50.
"I think my tenure here as a 49er, it was great. It was a great journey for me, a great experience," Davis said. "I had an opportunity to just cultivate the relationships with my teammates, the coaches during my stay here. And I gave everything that I had, every ounce of my body and just gave it all. I gave it all to the fans, to the organization, the community, and I feel like I didn't leave anything behind."
But that path led him to Denver when the Broncos were searching for a valuable addition to their tight end corps, and ultimately that has led him back to San Francisco for another shot at a Super Bowl, his second after the 49ers' loss to the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII. "It's very special, because before I left here, I knew it was for a reason," Davis said. "There had to have been a purpose for me going to Denver, and I just kept that faith and that belief and I knew that it had to be something good that would come out of it. We're back here and it's just like I imagined: We're in the Super Bowl."