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Reply #151: Ernie Davis (1939-1963), first black Heisman Trophy winner [View All]

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Brewman_Jax Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Sep-15-08 09:54 AM
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151. Ernie Davis (1939-1963), first black Heisman Trophy winner
subject of the movie The Express: The Ernie Davis Story.

The honors came early and often, from the time he started with organized sports. Ernie Davis succeeded at every venue, a three-sport standout in high school, a two-time All-American halfback at Syracuse.

He led Elmira (N.Y.) Free Academy to a 52-game winning streak in basketball and as a Syracuse sophomore helped the Orangemen gain their only national football championship.

He became eligible for the varsity squad in his sophomore year. The season ended with Syracuse earning its first national championship and Ernie led Syracuse to its first bowl victory, for which he was voted the game's most valuable player.

It was Ernie's performance against the University of Pittsburgh that year which inspired the nickname "The Elmira Express." The phrase was coined by Elmira Star-Gazette sports writer Al Mallette.

During his junior year, Ernie set a record of 7.8 yards per carry average and was the third leading rusher in the nation with 877 yards. He rushed for over 100 yards in 6 of 9 games and was named All-American.

Ernie's senior football season included another notable performance and additional awards. He was named Sports Illustrated's 'Back of the Week,' four times weekly All-East, a consensus All-American, and the Heisman Trophy winner. He led Syracuse in rushing for the third consecutive year, gaining over 100 yards three times and over 90 yards on three other occasions. Plus he led the team in scoring with 15 touchdowns.

Ernie was the number one pick for the 1962 National Football League draft following his senior year. He signed with the Cleveland Browns to a three-year no-cut, no-trade $65,000 contract with a $15,000 signing bonus - setting a new record for a rookie. This was less money than the AFL Buffalo Bills had offered him. However, it was reported that Ernie picked the Browns because they were part of the more established NFL, and because of Coach Modell and player Jim Brown.

Davis never realized his dream of playing in the NFL. Ernie was diagnosed with acute monocytic leukemia on Monday, July 30, 1962. He died on Saturday, May 18, 1963 and was mourned by the nation.

His number, 45, worn only in practice, was retired by the Cleveland Browns, and Elmira Free Academy was renamed Ernie Davis Middle School in 1964.
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