Ernest R. Davis, also known as Ernie, was an African-American football player who won the Heisman Trophy for the first time. Ernie’s father died in an automobile accident before he was born, and he was raised by his maternal grandparents. He moved back to New York with his mother and stepfather when he was young and enrolled in the Elmira Free Academy, where he earned two All-American honors. Ernie stepped into the footsteps of Syracuse University’s famous Jim Brown and led the Orangemen to a national title with his incredible talent. The Washington Redskins selected him first in the National Football League (NFL), followed by the Cleveland Browns. Ernie’s fate, however, had other plans for him, as he was diagnosed with Leukemia shortly after his selection. Due to his condition, he never got the chance to play in a professional game and died at the young age of 23 in Cleveland, Ohio. Rob Brown played Ernie Davis in the Universal Pictures picture ‘The Express,’ which was based on his tale.
Childhood and Adolescence
Ernest R. Davis was born on December 14th, 1939 in New Salem, Pennsylvania. Before his birth, his father died in a car accident, and his mother, Avis Marie Davis Fleming, sent him to live with his maternal grandparents while she looked for work.
He was born in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, and moved to Elmira, New York, with his mother and stepfather when he was 12 years old. During his elementary school years, he was a standout athlete who excelled in baseball, basketball, and football.
Ernie played tackle for the Superior Buick team in Small Fry football and later joined the junior varsity football team at Elmira Free Academy in New York. He graduated from Elmira Free Academy and enrolled at Syracuse University for college.
Career of Ernie Davis
In Elmira Free Academy, Ernie was chosen for the junior varsity football team and broke his wrist in the first game. During his injury, he continued to play basketball and scored 22 points in his first game.
In 1955, he was a defensive end for the football team and led his team to a conference championship during his sophomore year. In 1956, his coach moved him to halfback, and his team, the Blue Devils, won another league championship.
In 1957, Ernie was named All-Conference for the third year in a row and appeared in thirteen games at halfback. At the time, he had 138 career points on 21 touchdowns and 12 place kicks, which was a school record.
During the same time period, he was also a standout basketball player, leading his club to 52 consecutive victories and a conference record of 1,065 points. He scored 18.4 points per game on average.
More than thirty institutions approached Ernie, but he ultimately chose Syracuse University, where his team went undefeated in 1958. In 1959, he led the Syracuse Orangemen to an 11-0 record over the Texas Longhorns.
Davis set a record of 7.8 yards per carry in 1960 and finished as the third highest runner in the country with 877 yards. In 1960, his club completed with a fantastic 7-2 record.
His Syracuse squad finished the season with an 8-3 record and a 15-14 victory over the Miami Hurricanes in the Liberty Bowl.
The Washington Redskins selected Ernie Davis first overall in the National Football League (NFL), followed by the Cleveland Browns. In December 1961, he received a three-year contract worth $200,000 with the Cleveland Browns. During that time, he was training for the East-West Shrine Game.
Major Projects of Ernie Davis
In 1957, Ernie Davis was named to the junior varsity football team at Elmira Free Academy, where he had previously earned three consecutive all-conference awards. During his high school career, he set a school record with 138 career points.
In 1960, Davis set a Syracuse University record of 7.8 yards per carry. For his efforts, he received several all-American honors as well as the Heisman Trophy.
Achievements & Awards
In 1960 and 1961, Ernie Davis was named to the first team All-American for two years in a row. In 1961, he earned the Heisman Trophy. The moniker ‘Elmira Express’ was bestowed upon him.
In 1961, Davis was selected Player of the Year by a Sports Magazine. In 1961, he won the Walter Camp Trophy for College Player of the Year and the Chic Harley Award. In 1979, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, which he still has today.
Robert C. Gallagher’s non-fiction book ‘Ernie Davis, the Elmira Express: The Story of a Heisman Trophy Winner’ was first released on June 1st, 1999. Universal Pictures produced a film based on the same novel called ‘The Express,’ which began filming in April 2007 and was released on October 10th, 2008. The part of Ernie Davis was performed by Rob Brown in the film, which grossed $9,808,124 at the box office.
Personal Experiences of Ernie Davis
Davis was diagnosed with leukemia while practicing for the College All-Star Game against the Green Bay Packers in Chicago in the summer of 1962. Following that, he began obtaining medical attention.
Ernie Davis died in Cleveland Lakeside Hospital on May 18th, 1963, at the age of 23 from incurable leukemia.
In 1960, when Ernie Davis was chosen player of the game in a game against the University of Texas, he was subjected to racism. As soon as he earned the medal, he was asked to leave the banquet hall, and he was also denied dinner with one of his other black teammates. As a result, the whole Syracuse team decided to skip the game.
Ernie’s game was followed by President John F. Kennedy. In February of 1963, he sent him a telegram praising his journey and saying how good he was at his game.
During his time in Syracuse, Davis wore the number 44 jersey. The school retired the number at a ceremony held on the field.