Ernie Davis’ story is one of joy and pain. He was one of the best college players of his time. He was prolific in several games and earned the name Elmira Express. His efforts paid off when he won the most prestigious award in college football, the Heisman Trophy.
Davis was destined for a professional career but didn’t go that far due to illness. He was diagnosed with leukaemia and died aged 23. Here’s his story.
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Ernie Davis’s Early Life
The player was born in Pennsylvania and was raised by his grandparents. His father died shortly after his birth and his mother was unable to raise him. As if that’s not enough, Davis had a stuttering problem but overcame it through proper care.
Davis was reunited with his mother in New York and raised by his stepfather. He played basketball, baseball and football and realized his athletic ability. When he joined Elmira Free Academy, he was one of its best players and received All-American honors.
He was a pivotal member of the school’s basketball team and some argued that he should have pursued it professionally. That said, numerous colleges went after Ernie Davis and he chose to play for Syracuse University after Jim Brown convinced him that it was a good option for him as a black athlete.
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Ernie Davis’s College Football
The rule at the time didn’t allow Ernie Davis to participate in competitions. He used that time to prepare himself for his impending debut. During training sessions, he demonstrated his power and skill and when he eventually started playing, the school benefited.
In his second year, he made 98 carries, 686 yards and 10 touchdowns and helped his school win the national championship. He was also part of the All-three American selections and was the Most Valuable Player of the Year.
The player continued racking up outstanding statistics including making 877 and 823 rushing yards. In his last season in college, Davis made 140 rushing and was named the MVP in the Liberty Bowl. His college record was unmatched. Davis finished with 2,386 rushing yards and 35 touchdowns.
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Despite his magnificent performance throughout college, Davis was subjected to racism. During the Cotton Bowl, he was awarded for his performance at the banquet.
However, he was ordered to leave the premises as soon as he got his award, as it was a segregated facility. His teammates were about to abandon the banquet in a show of solidarity but the school’s officials overruled their decision.
Despite these circumstances, Davis made history when he became the first African American man to win the Heisman Trophy and to join the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity.
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Reports indicate that Ernie Davis was one of the most-paid rookies in the game at the time. He was set to debut in the 1962 season for the Cleveland Browns but was diagnosed with acute monocytic leukaemia.
He remained determined to play but his coach made the difficult decision not to play him. Davis went into remission, and seemed like things were going well but he succumbed in May 1963.
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Ernie Davis didn’t play professional football but he had already done more than enough to secure his legacy. Cleveland Browns retired his jersey and was later inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Ernie Davis was a pioneer in football. His presence contributed to changing the perception of black players in the game, having been the best player of his time.
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