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Why Vernon Davis loves ‘sweet potato yams’ so much

‘Anything yams, I’ll eat it. Yam oatmeal. Yam cereal. You name it. Yam pudding. Yam stew. I’m all about it.’

ASHBURN, Virginia — There are major concerns facing the Washington Redskins heading into their Thanksgiving Day matchup against divisional rival the Dallas Cowboys. Earlier this week, the Redskins lost starting quarterback Alex Smith for the season to a fractured right leg. In his place is backup Colt McCoy, who has just four more career touchdowns (27) than interceptions (23) and seven wins in 25 career starts. Not to mention, a loss on Thursday would put Washington in a first-place tie in the NFC East with the Cowboys rather than a more comfortable two-game lead in the competitive division.

But those things aren’t what’s most important when it comes to the Redskins’ involvement in Thursday’s holiday game. That, of course, is the return of Redskins tight end Vernon Davis’ infatuation with sweet potato yams.

During a 2014 Thanksgiving game between the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks, NBC, which was broadcasting the game, asked various players what their favorite Thanksgiving food was. Davis, then a tight end for the 49ers, emphatically responded: “Yams. Sweet potato yams.”

A meme was born.

Sweet potatoes — which are scientifically distinct from yams, although they are used interchangeably in the United States — are a staple in black homes, dating to chattel slavery in the South, where sweet potatoes grew more easily than the more revered Thanksgiving treat: pumpkins.

Davis, a two-time Pro Bowler in his third season with Washington, grew up on the root vegetable, eating them as a kid whenever his grandmother would make them. These days, he eats them as often as he can get his hands on them.

“Anything yams, I’ll eat it. Yam oatmeal. Yam cereal. You name it. Yam pudding. Yam stew. I’m all about it.”

As video evidence proves — Davis brought back the meme during another NBC segment last season — Davis is a fan of the most popular variation of sweet potatoes: chopped, boiled and seasoned with some mixture of sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla extract. (Butter is normally an ingredient as well, but as a professional athlete, he avoids the saturated fat of butter.)

But Davis doesn’t discriminate when it comes to his favorite meal. He enjoys sweet potato pie and sweet potato casserole, which requires mashing the sweet potatoes and topping them with marshmallows, as well as concoctions that haven’t even been invented yet.

“Anything yams, I’ll eat it. Yam oatmeal. Yam cereal. You name it. Yam pudding. Yam stew. I’m all about it,” Davis told The Undefeated.

Despite their reputation as a sweetened side item or dessert, sweet potatoes are actually pretty healthy. They’re naturally high in fiber, potassium and beta carotene and can help reduce inflammation. So sweet potatoes are good for you. That is, until they’re smothered in sugar and butter. Candied yams, anyone?

Davis rarely prepares his sweet potatoes himself, preferring that his grandmother or aunt make them — or even chain restaurants.

With a straight face, Davis claims that luxury steakhouse Ruth’s Chris has the best sweet potatoes in the industry. “Yeah, buddy. That’s a good one there.” B-level family restaurant Boston Market “has some good yams too.”

As far as the meme, Davis was aware “right away” of it being passed around on social media back in 2014 right after it happened. He finds all the jokes “hilarious.”

But for all the would-be conspiracy theorists out there who think Davis is some Big Potato industry plant secretly trying to drum up interest in an innocuous vegetable-turned-dessert by saying “sweet potato yams” in such a humorous manner, he’s a genuine enthusiast. He didn’t purposely try to be the face of sweet potatoes. “I was just excited about yams.”

He hasn’t even heard from Alexia Foods or Green Giant about an endorsement deal. “No. I need some. If you got any for me, let me know,” he said of endorsement opportunities. “I’ll take ’em. I need that.”

Notwithstanding his enthusiasm for the holidays, for the third year in a row, Davis won’t be home to enjoy his favorite meal because he’ll be playing during the NFL’s slate of Thanksgiving games.

“Uh, it’s fun. It’s a fun game to play in,” he said of Thanksgiving Day games. “But I’d much rather be at home with family and friends.”

And presumably sweet potato yams.

Martenzie Johnson is a senior writer for Andscape. His favorite cinematic moment is when Django said, "Y'all want to see somethin?"