But there was also a time when he was a beloved member of the on-ice Toronto Maple Leafs too.
From 1935 through 1946 Davidson earned a reputation as a hard working winger better known for his two-way play than his offense. From 1935 through 1942 Davidson's career high was just 8 goals. During the diluted era of World War II when the NHL lost many of its players to military commitments, Davidson emerged as a moderate scoring threat. He reached double digits from 1942 through 1945. He topped out at 19 goals and 47 points in 1943-44.
Although he often played on the Leafs' top line with Syl Apps and Gord Drillon - the DAD Line - offense wasn't a true measure of Davidson's value to the Maple Leafs. He was a physical yet usually clean checker known affectionately as "Rugged Robert." Davidson earned the reputation as one of the top defensive forwards in the game during his 12 year career. He accomplished this by perfecting the now-commonly used though illegal ploy of "clutching and grabbing." Davidson was an expert at it. He knew how to interfere with his check just enough to keep him from getting open for a shot without getting a penalty himself. Davidson, despite his reputation, spent very little time in the penalty box - in his career he spent 398 minutes in the penalty box in nearly 500 games.
A disciple of coach Hap Day's tight checking brand of defense, Davidson often drew the assignment of checking the top right winger on the opposing team many nights in his 491 game career in the NHL. Davidson was a wily veteran by the time Montreal's volcanic right winger Maurice Richard arrived in the league, but his battles with "The Rocket" are often more remembered than any other battles.
Unfortunately for Davidson, most hockey history books that refer to Davidson often bring up game 2 of the Stanley Cup semi-finals in 1944. Toronto was facing Montreal and Richard was particularly hot, scoring 23 goals in his last 22 games. Much hype was made when it became obvious that night that the Leafs were employing Davidson against Richard in the tightest of fashions. Anywhere the Rocket went, so would Davidson, even if the play was 100 feet away. Davidson's only job that night was to worry about Richard at all times, and not to help out his other teammates defensively or offensively.
Davidson's clutching and grabbing successfully frustrated Richard in the first period. But Richard broke loose in the second frame, scoring a hat trick. Richard potted two more in the third as Montreal won the game 5-1. It was one of the single greatest performances by one player in National Hockey League history.
Experts agree that Richard's legendary night was more of a reflection of Richard's greatness than Davidson's ability. It is too bad for Davidson that this one night is the one that seems destined to be remembered in his career, as he was truly a great defensive forward much like a Bob Gainey or Guy Carbonneau of modern times. He personified the word industrious as much as any hockey player ever has, and he deserves to be remembered as such.
Davidson was born in Toronto on February 10, 1912, and lived every Toronto kid's dream. He grew up to become a junior star in the city, most notably with the Toronto Canoe Club and Toronto City Services junior hockey team before graduating to the Toronto Marlboros in 1932. In 1933 he joined the Marlies senior team before turning professional in 1934.
Davidson spent parts of two seasons apprenticing in the minor leagues with the International Hockey League's Syracuse Stars. But by 1936 he was a full time member of the hometown Toronto Maple Leafs! He would enjoy more than a decade's run with the Leafs highlighted by 2 Stanley Cup championships and a career 2 year reign as captain of the most fabled team in English Canada!
In the late 1970s Davidson's 40-plus year affiliation with the Leafs came to cruel end. Harold Ballard axed his pay in half, and a heartbroken Davidson resigned in disgust. Ballard was unexplainably eliminating anything and anyone that was a part of the Maple Leafs glorious past. Davidson, like so many others, did not deserve to be treated the way he had been.
Davidson passed away at the age of 84 on September 28, 1996. Both his son (Jim) and grandson (Bryce) have also played minor professional hockey.