How The Notre Dame Killer Recovered His Brain – Part 1 of an Interview with Anthony Davis

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Today on the Brain Warrior’s Way podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana interview guest Anthony Davis, also known as A.D., also known as the legendary ‘Notre Dame Killer,’ who scored a combined 10 touchdowns in the 1972 and 1974 games against the Irish and was runner-up in the ’74 Heisman vote. They discuss his struggles with brain fog, memory issues and overall health.


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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome back to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. Tana and I are here with one of our dear friends. Hall of fame running back, Anthony Davis, from USC. He's called the Notre Dame killer because in 1972, he scored six touchdowns against the University of Notre Dame. In fact, the Notre Dame students hated him so much, they put his picture on the walkway on the campus so that they could walk on him.

Tana Amen: That's hilarious.

Dr. Daniel Amen: In 1974, he scored four more touchdowns against the University of Notre Dame. Welcome, Anthony. I just couldn't be more excited that you're with us.

Anthony Davis: Thank you. That was years ago. I don't even know how I was able to do that feat on the field that day. I must have been in another zone. Like they say, on another planet.

Tana Amen: You were in the zone that day?

Anthony Davis: I was one of those athletes that had one of those zone moments.

Tana Amen: That's awesome.

Anthony Davis: In a couple of games.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So we're going to do four podcasts with AD, as his friends call him. And we're going to talk about football. But we're also going to talk about head injuries. We're going to talk about youth sports. We're also going to talk about people who are in the shadows of brain damage, dementia and memory loss.

Tana Amen: So to get started though, can we hear a little bit about ... I want to know about Anthony Davis and his story. And how we came to cross paths. Let's talk a little bit about that.

Anthony Davis: Let's go back to year 2006. The late 2006. I had a friend by the name of Don Buckles. He was a pharmaceutical major at USC. He was a big follower of mine. He just took pictures of me when I played ball. [inaudible 00:02:00] and professionally. That was one of his passions. And we met and I started going to different functions with him. And we had a conversation, he says, "Anthony, have you ever had your brain scanned?"

I said, "No, what would I need that for? I'm sharp as a tack." And right off the surgery, you know, I'm a gastric bypass patient as well. So, he said you need to get that checked. I said, come on. And so I started some episodes of memory loss, a little bit I thought. Now that I know. I walked out of my house one day, and got to my car and said, "Did I lock my door?" Walked back, checked the door. And it was okay, it was locked.

And then a couple of weeks later I got in the car, drove about a mile away. "Did I lock my door?" Went all the way back to my house, checked the door. I said I got some issues, naw I'm just tired and fatigued, whatever.

This is what got me. I'm on the 405 freeway going North and I blanked out.

Tana Amen: Oh.

Anthony Davis: And I got ahold of Don, I said, "Don, you know. Can you set something up?" He says, "Well, you can go see Dr. Amen, Dr. Daniel Amen." And so I asked, "Who is that?" And he said, "Well, he does brain imaging. And he can figure it out." And so I got a hold of Dr. Amen, came in and we discussed it. Set up a time for me to get my brain scan, get the image. And then I came back to see Dr. Amen and of coarse doc, you said, "How many concussions you think you had?" I said, "I think I've had one or two." He said, "Well I got a little more." And then he said, "You told me, based on what we see, and my diagnosis is that you have a brain of an 85-year old man.

Tana Amen: Ouch!

Anthony Davis: Then I looked at you and I, well I said, "Dr. Amen, doc you are nuts." I mean, I'm an older guy but I'm no 85-year old in the brain. So, then you know. That was our start. He put me on a supplement program. And I've been doing it ever since, 10 years later here I am. Feel much better.

Tana Amen: Well, and you called me not that long ago, you guys did a follow-up scan 10 years later and Daniel was just bouncing up and down in his chair like a little kid. Cause apparently the follow-up scan was dramatically better, right?

Dr. Daniel Amen: Right. His brain actually looked younger than he was.

Tana Amen: Oh!

Dr. Daniel Amen: And so that's not what happens with scans. Over time your brain ages. It's sort of like your skin-

Tana Amen: Under normal conditions.

Dr. Daniel Amen: -falls off your face as you age, that same process happens in the brain. And his damaged scan was dramatically better. And I mean, that's what makes me happy. And he's better. And Anthony is really the father of our NFL work. That because of our relationship, is you started to feel better. And you went, "The commissioner should know about this."

Anthony Davis: Absolutely.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And you wrote the commissioner a letter, we sent information. At the time, the NFL was really having trouble with this issue. You know, I guess I would say my thought was that they're actively in denial about it. They were denying players requests for disability and it was a mess. And it was highlighted in the movie Concussion where both you and I were consultants in the movie with Will Smith. Written by our friend, Peter Landesman. And Anthony, one of the things I love about you is your passionate about not only taking care of yourself, but in taking care of people you care about.

Anthony Davis: Yes, I mean I have my former teammate who came in here a month ago to the clinic. And Marvin Cobb who's a teammate at USC played with the Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers and he was having problems. He had a stroke and he was having memory loss before the stroke. So he's on your program now, and he says he's feeling much better. I actually talked to him this morning. And yeah. There's a lot of former players I've reached out to and still am reaching out to.

Tana Amen: Well and that study turned out to be just so important. Not just in research, but for the players in general. I mean, we've had some dramatic improvements in a lot of people's lives and we feel so terrible about the ones we haven't been able to help improve who did not have good outcomes.

Anthony Davis: Well the thing is, what I like to see is a comprehensive program put together. Leading the way with Dr. Amen and have a round table discussion about concussion problems in the National Ball League. And all other collision sports. I think that's very important. Because I would like to see the National Football League, for example, to embrace the program. And if the guys are playing now, if they're currently are having issues, they should be in a program. The treatment, I can [inaudible 00:07:07]. And then once you leave you're already on that program, that's what I like to see.

And that goes for hockey, it goes for boxing. Then also we've got, outside of sport, we've got our armed forces. These guys are suffering in the shadows too. Which have been to your clinic ... A couple of guys that have been in the clinic talked to me about it. And that's what I'd really like to see.

I'm not, you know. A lot of people would like to see a game abolished, but-

Tana Amen: That's probably not going to happen

Anthony Davis: That's not going to happen. But since we have this program out, why not be involved and be on it?

Tana Amen: And be honest.

Anthony Davis: Yeah, absolutely. You got treatment for everything else but the brain. And that's the most important.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And we don't look. I mean that's the big issue. So I played football in High School. I loved it, watched you like a crazy fan. And it wasn't until I started looking at the brain, doing brain spec imaging that we do here at Amen clinics that I went, "Uh oh."

Cause I would see High School players whose brains were damaged. My first college player had just been arrested for domestic violence, so I've done a fair amount of legal work, criminal work. And his attorneys sent him to me. And the whole left side of his brain was damaged. And he was a middle linebacker at UC Burkly. And I'm beginning to think, maybe this is not a good idea. That your brain is soft, about the consistency of soft butter. Your skull is really hard and inside has sharp boney ridges. Is that hitting it repeatedly is not a good idea. And even though you had told me, "I think I had maybe one or two concussions." It's actually not the big hits that get you.

And Joe Lewis said it, the famous heavyweight champion. He said it's not the big hits that cause dementia, it's the thousands of little hits. And if you stand next to Anthony, he's got big muscles.

Tana Amen: Yeah, he's a big guy.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And I've always loved that. He's got big muscles which means when you ram, there was a collision that was happening. And you played High School, you played college, you played professionally. So how many thousands of hits did you get and did you give?

Anthony Davis: Yeah, it's just amazing now. When you think about playing football, you think about the big hits. I've been hit in the head many times. Every time I touched the ball I was getting hit in the head.

Tana Amen: Right.

Anthony Davis: By three or four or five guys every play. So those little hits are the ones that build up over time but-

Tana Amen: Well and you guys, quite frankly, someone my size standing next to you, I would run the other way. So you guys are like tanks, so.

Anthony Davis: Well, you put your guy that's 200 plus pounds and they could run a 4 440 and they could run a 10 600 meters and that's a freight train coming to you. And when you make those collisions, over a period of time, the damage is done. I can't believe I did it. Believe me. If I was armed with this knowledge now that I know, I would've never touched that again.

Tana Amen: Wow, okay. So I want to say, I want to hear that again. So even with your record, and your level of success, you wouldn't do it again?

Anthony Davis: No. And the fact, I mean what's really frustrating for a guy like me that was blessed with talent, I was a two sport athlete. And I was a number one top draft rank in both sports. And I-

Tana Amen: Was baseball the other one?

Anthony Davis: The baseball was ... As a matter of fact, if you go back to my neighborhood and everyone who grew up with me, and everyone who's followed me and scouted me. That was what made my career.

Tana Amen: So they thought that you were going to do baseball?

Anthony Davis: Oh yeah, at 12 years old. "He's going to the major leagues."

Tana Amen: Okay, so going back, if you knew then what you know now you would have chosen baseball?

Anthony Davis: Oh, absolutely.

Tana Amen: Oh my gosh.

Anthony Davis: I wouldn't have touched the football field.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And even though you can get a head injury in baseball, and I've certainly seen many of them. It's not the point-

Tana Amen: Of the game, right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: As opposed to in football, collision is the point. And next up we're going to talk about use sports. But one of the things I want always loved about Anthony is his huge heart that he has. And when you started feeling better, you started talking to other players about it. It's like, "Hey you should get your brain scanned." And then you asked me to speak at the Los Angeles chapter of the retired NFL players association, and I just remember that night. And I was so sad. Because one of the players asked me the same question 6 times. And it was clear there was a higher level of depression and dementia than anybody was talking about at the time.

Anthony Davis: Absolutely. You've got to realize you spoke at the chapter, but that all the chapters of the country. There's a lot of guys out there who have suffered through the same situation. I mean, it's endless player.

Tana Amen: Yeah. And well when they're retired, what we say is that retired players, their lives fall apart. And we don't hear that story. And that's what we're going to talk about in the shadows, right?

Anthony Davis: Oh, absolutely.

Tana Amen: Is the suffering in the shadows that you want to talk about.

Anthony Davis: Yeah, there's guys that are jobless, you've got guys that are homeless-

Tana Amen: Domestic violence and arrests-

Anthony Davis: Domestic violence, they've got anger issues, they've got depression. Don't sleep well.

Tana Amen: It's sad.

Anthony Davis: You know, don't eat right. So you got a guy who played at six foot five, 225-30 pounds 50 pounds, you see a linebacker that blows up at 300 pounds, which I have learned through the Amen clinic. It's bad for the brain too.

Tana Amen: Bad for the brain.

Anthony Davis: So obviously I learned, because I was 315 pounds at one time. And it did the damage, too on top of the collisions, on top of the concussion problems I had. Not only was I obese, I was suffering brain damage.

Tana Amen: Right, wow.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And if you hit your frontal lobes over and over again ... So the front part of your brain is your brain's supervisor. It watches you, it makes sure you make good decisions. And in a society filled with terrible, unhealthy food, you're just more likely to say yes than is good for you. And that is why you can end up being significantly overweight, because you can't say no. So much to talk about.

When we come back, we are going to talk about, well what do you do if your child wants to play football? Or they want to play another brain damaging sport. Hit soccer balls with their head, play hockey, race cars, boxing. Stay with us, we'll be back with our friend Anthony Davis.