60th Anniversary of Ernie Davis’ Death

Ernie Davis: The Elmira Express

May 18, 2023.

Ernie Davis’ story is one of triumph and tragedy. Reintroduced to the nation in in the 1983 edition of Ernie Davis, the Elmira Express: The Story of a Heisman Trophy Winner. Robert Gallagher interviewed most of the principals in Ernie’s life and it remains the definitive account of his story. Published in various formats, the latest is the Anniversary edition which was published in tandem with Universal Picture’s 2008 film, “The Express”—based on our book.

Since then, ESPN ranked Ernie Davis’ winning of the Heisman Trophy as their most inspiring story in the first 150-years history of college football.

Davis’ death at only 23 shocked the nation in 1963 as evidenced by this short excerpt from Ernie Davis, The Elmira Express:

“The eulogies arrived from throughout the country. Ernie had touched people at every level and in every section of the nation. The themes were similar, Ernie Davis was courageous, a gentleman, and an inspiration to everyone. Among those shocked by the news were members of Ernie’s family. His aunt Angeline McLee of Uniontown, Pennsylvania told the Associated Press the family wasn’t aware that Ernie was near death. ‘We didn’t know at all,’ she said. ‘We were shocked. His mother didn’t know but she thought I would have known. Ernie always confided in me. I was like a sister to him.’ Art Modell said, ‘It will be a long time before we see a boy like Ernie Davis again. He was a great athlete, but more important, he was a great person. He is the finest boy I have ever met in my life.’ He announced that the Browns had retired Ernie’s number 45, although he had only worn it in practice. On hearing of Ernie’s death, Syracuse University Chancellor William P. Tolley stated, ‘Ernie was as fine a man as he was an athlete—whether in the classroom, the dormitory or the playing field. He exemplified the highest standards of industry, integrity, responsibility and fidelity to duty.’ Jim Brown said, ‘Ernie’s death came as a complete shock to me. He was just the same right up until he went in the hospital.’ His physician, Dr. Weisberger said, ‘Ernie was a most impressive person. He was a real gentleman in all senses of the word. He had great courage and dignity. You couldn’t help but admire him’” (163-164).