25 Facts About Ernie Davis


Ernest Davis was an American football player who won the Heisman Trophy in 1961 and was its first African-American recipient.


Ernie Davis played college football for Syracuse University and was the first pick in the 1962 NFL Draft, where he was selected by the Washington Redskins, but was almost immediately traded to the Cleveland Browns.


Ernie Davis was diagnosed with leukemia that same year, and died shortly after at age 23 without ever playing in a professional game.


Ernie Davis was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1979 and was the subject of the 2008 film The Express: The Ernie Davis Story.


Ernie Davis's father was killed in an accident shortly after his birth, and his mother, Avis Marie Davis Fleming, could not raise him alone.


Ernie Davis attended Elmira Free Academy, where he earned two All-American honors.


Ernie Davis played football for coach Ben Schwartzwalder at Syracuse University from 1959 to 1961, and went on to national fame in each of those three seasons, twice winning first-team All-American honors.


Author Jocelyn Selim writes that at the banquet following the 1960 game, Ernie Davis was told he could only accept his award and then would be required to leave the segregated facility.


Ernie Davis was Davis' teammate at Syracuse and on the Cleveland Browns, his roommate and a close friend.


Ernie Davis became the first black athlete to be awarded the Heisman Trophy and he won the Walter Camp Memorial Trophy following his 1961 senior-year season at Syracuse University.


Ernie Davis was the first African-American to become part of the organization not only at the Syracuse chapter, but for the national fraternity as a whole.


Ernie Davis was a candidate in the university's Army ROTC program and was commissioned as a second lieutenant following graduation.


Ernie Davis was posthumously inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1979.


Ernie Davis was a member of The Pigskin Club of Washington, DC National Intercollegiate All-American Football Players Honor.


Ernie Davis was the number-one pick in the 1962 NFL Draft on December 4,1961.


Ernie Davis was drafted two days earlier by the Buffalo Bills of the American Football League.


Ernie Davis openly admitted that his unwillingness to sign a black player was an effort to appeal to his mostly Southern fan base.


Ernie Davis refused to play for the Redskins and demanded a trade.


Ernie Davis chose to go to the Cleveland Browns where his classmate John Brown would be his roommate and Jim Brown, whom he admired, was already playing.


Ernie Davis signed a three-year, $200,000 contract with the Browns in late December 1961 in San Francisco while preparing for the East-West Shrine Game.


The rift between Coach Brown and Modell worsened when Modell brought in doctors who said Ernie Davis was well enough to play and Brown still refused to allow it.


Ernie Davis was allowed to practice on the field without physical contact and helped Brown draw up game plans but he never played a meaningful down.


Ernie Davis was diagnosed with acute monocytic leukemia and began receiving medical treatment.


The disease was incurable, and Ernie Davis died at age 23 at Cleveland Lakeside Hospital on May 18,1963.


Ernie Davis was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in the fall of 1979.