The Triumph And Tragedy Of Ernie Davis, The First Black Heisman Winner

The story of Ernie Davis is one of triumph and tragedy.  Born in New Salem, Pennsylvania, Davis was raised by his maternal grandparents until he was 12 years old before moving to Elmira, New York to live with his mother and stepfather.  He would excel at team sports throughout grade school and attended Elmira Free Academy for secondary school education, where he earned All-American accolades twice. 

At the behest of Syracuse University alumnus and all-time football great Jim Brown, Davis decided to suit up for the Orange for his collegiate career. He wore number 44, like Brown before him, starting a tradition among Syracuse running backs that lasted until the number was retired in 1998.

As a sophomore, Davis dominated the competition and helped the Cuse win the national championship, defeating the Texas Longhorns in the 1960 Cotton Bowl to go 11-0. Davis earned the title game’s Most Valuable Player award.  That game was infamously filled with racial tension.  At the time, many big time football schools in the south were resistant to recruiting black players. 

A Tribute to Ernie Davis – Syracuse Football

With this documentary, Syracuse University celebrates the 50th Anniversary of Ernie Davis, Class of 1962, becoming the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy. Watch more Syracuse Orange videos: https://www.youtube.com/suathletics Subscribe to videos from the Syracuse Orange: https://www.youtube.com/subscription_center?add_user=suathletics Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Cuse Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SyracuseOrange Follow us on Instagram: http://instagram.com/syracuseathletics Visit our Homepage: http://www.cuse.com Syracuse University is a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, a Division I NCAA intercollegiate athletic conference.

A 1960 article in Life magazine summarized the atmosphere.

At first in the game, the Syracuse players outdid themselves in showing what good sports they were, helping blocked Texans off the ground and slapping their rumps for friendly good measure. But this was short-lived. “Texas was really dirty,” said one Syracuse player afterward. “We’ve never met a bunch like that before.”

What enraged them most was that much of Texas’ dirty play seemed to be directed toward Syracuse’s Negro players. Once when he was plowing through the line, said Negro fullback Art Baker, “one of them spit right in my face.”

John Brown, a Negro lineman, played nose to nose against 235-pound Texas tackle Larry Stephens. To goad him off balance, Brown claimed, Stephens kept calling him “a big black dirty nigger.” Finally, Brown warned him not to call him that again. When Stephens did, Brown swung.

In his junior year, Davis would average 7.8 yards per carry but the Orange failed to earn a bowl appearance with a 7-2 record.  During his senior year of 1961, he led Syracuse to a 8-3 record and a win over the Miami Hurricanes in the Liberty Bowl.

Davis would become the first black player to win the Heisman Trophy following his senior season. It was such a significant accolade that President John F. Kennedy, a big fan, invited him to the White House and sent him a congratulatory telegram.



Davis would be selected with the number one pick in the 1962 draft by the Washington Redskins and was traded to the Cleveland Browns.  Redskins owner George Preston Marshall, a segregationist who resisted integrating his team and admitted to doing so to assuage concerns of a largely southern white fan base, had to be threatened into even considering it.

The only reason Marshall drafted Davis in the first place was due to an ultimatum from Interior Secretary Stewart Udall telling the owner that he risked revocation of the Redskins 30-year lease at D.C. Stadium if he didnt sign a black player by the start of the 1962 season.  Even with that warning, he wouldnt pull the trigger.  Indeed, racism dies a gargling, defiant, cursing and spitting death. Always has. 

However, he left the decision to GM and head coach Bill McPeak, who picked Davis. The Syracuse star would refuse to play for the Redskins and demanded the trade that landed him in Cleveland.  It was orchestrated by legendary coach Paul Brown, without the consent or knowledge of owner Art Modell.  His three-year, $200,000 deal was the most lucrative rookie contract at the time.

Banks was eventually diagnosed with acute monocytic leukemia prior to the College All-Star Game against the Green Bay Packers after awaking with swelling in his neck.

A power struggle between Coach Brown and Modell would become even worse when Modell hired doctors that eventually diagnosed Davis as being well enough to play, but the coach still wouldnt let him play despite his ailment being in remission. 

This was the beginning of the end of relationship between Paul Brown and the Cleveland Browns. Ernie Davis died on May 18, 1963 at Cleveland Lakeside Hospital.  He was 23 years old. But his legacy can be recalled anytime a black collegiate player takes home the Heisman.  In those moments, Ernie Davis lives on forever.

The Express Official Trailer #1 – Dennis Quaid Movie (2008) HD

Subscribe to TRAILERS: http://bit.ly/sxaw6h Subscribe to COMING SOON: http://bit.ly/H2vZUn Subscribe to CLASSIC TRAILERS: http://bit.ly/1u43jDe Like us on FACEBOOK: http://goo.gl/dHs73 Follow us on TWITTER: http://bit.ly/1ghOWmt The Express Trailer – Directed by Gary Fleder and starring Rob Brown, Dennis Quaid, Darrin Dewitt Henson, Omar Benson Miller, Nelsan Ellis.

Davis’ tragic life would be made into the Gary Fleder biopic The Express, starring Rob Brown and Dennis Quaid.  

As college football is set to honor another Heisman Trophy winner this weekend, we pay our respects to the late, great Ernie Davis, the trailblazer. It was once said that if Jim Brown didn’t win the Heisman, no Black college football player ever would. Davis, with his remarkable senior year, made sure that would never be the case.


Related Articles


  1. Nice weblog here! Also your site loads up very fast! What host are you using? Can I am getting your associate hyperlink in your host? I desire my website loaded up as quickly as yours lol

  2. I do believe all the ideas you’ve introduced to your post. They’re very convincing and will certainly work. Still, the posts are too brief for beginners. May just you please prolong them a little from subsequent time? Thank you for the post.

  3. I simply could not leave your web site prior to suggesting that I really loved the usual information a person provide to your visitors? Is going to be again steadily to check out new posts

  4. After I initially commented I appear to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on every time a comment is added I recieve four emails with the exact same comment. There has to be a way you are able to remove me from that service? Many thanks!|

  5. Hello, Neat post. There is an issue together with your site in internet explorer, could test this? IE nonetheless is the marketplace chief and a huge component of people will pass over your magnificent writing due to this problem.|

  6. Good day! I know this is kind of off topic but I was wondering if you knew where I could get a captcha plugin for my comment form? I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m having problems finding one? Thanks a lot!|

  7. I think this is among the most important information for me. And i am glad reading your article. But want to remark on few general things, The website style is ideal, the articles is really nice : D. Good job, cheers|

  8. With havin so much written content do you ever run into any problems of plagorism or copyright violation? My website has a lot of unique content I’ve either authored myself or outsourced but it looks like a lot of it is popping it up all over the web without my authorization. Do you know any ways to help reduce content from being stolen? I’d genuinely appreciate it.|

  9. If you are going for most excellent contents like myself, simply pay a visit this web site all the time since it presents feature contents, thanks|

  10. Today, while I was at work, my sister stole my iphone and tested to see if it can survive a twenty five foot drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation. My apple ipad is now destroyed and she has 83 views. I know this is entirely off topic but I had to share it with someone!|

  11. I was wondering if you ever thought of changing the page layout of your blog? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having 1 or two images. Maybe you could space it out better?|

  12. I have been exploring for a little bit for any high-quality articles or blog posts on this sort of house . Exploring in Yahoo I eventually stumbled upon this site. Reading this info So i’m satisfied to exhibit that I’ve an incredibly good uncanny feeling I came upon just what I needed. I most for sure will make certain to don?t fail to remember this website and provides it a glance regularly.|

  13. Hello! I know this is kinda off topic however , I’d figured I’d ask. Would you be interested in trading links or maybe guest authoring a blog article or vice-versa? My blog goes over a lot of the same subjects as yours and I believe we could greatly benefit from each other. If you’re interested feel free to shoot me an email. I look forward to hearing from you! Excellent blog by the way!|

  14. It’s difficult to find well-informed people for this topic, but you seem like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks

  15. Hello there! I simply want to offer you a big thumbs up for your excellent information you have here on this post. I am coming back to your website for more soon.

  16. Hi, I do think this is an excellent site. I stumbledupon it 😉 I may come back once again since I saved as a favorite it. Money and freedom is the greatest way to change, may you be rich and continue to guide others.

  17. I just want to tell you that I am just new to blogging and absolutely loved you’re website. Almost certainly I’m likely to bookmark your site . You amazingly come with tremendous posts. Appreciate it for sharing your website page.

  18. Leading Online Pharmacy – Contact us at +1 (917) 259-3352 for unbelievable rates, discount and offers on any medicine. Get it delivered free of cost at your door steps, call us today. Phone : +1 (917) 259-3352

  19. I really like what you guys are usually up too. This kind of clever work and reporting! Keep up the very good works guys I’ve incorporated you guys to my blogroll.|

  20. I would like to convey my admiration for your generosity in support of men and women that have the need for help with this particular concern. Your special dedication to getting the message all over had been wonderfully productive and have all the time made professionals much like me to attain their dreams. Your own invaluable tutorial means a great deal to me and additionally to my office workers. Thank you; from everyone of us.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.