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Saturday, August 2, 2008

Football, for me, would not live without film. I was never a skillful player, and opportunities to cheer on my Browns at old Municipal Stadium were few. So, for me, the game was on television, on the radio - or on the rare occasion that a good football movie was made, on the big screen.

I always thought that I needed to see and hear my heroes for them to be real.

Then I remembered Ernie Davis.

The young man from Elmira, New York, who succeeded at one impossible task, topping the inimitable Jim Brown by becoming the first Black college football player to win the Heisman Trophy. As you might expect, this had pro teams falling al over themselves to acquire him. The maneuvering required for my hometown Cleveland Browns to draft the young running back seemed worth the irreparable rift it caused between coach Paul Brown and owner Art Modell. Now #45, Davis was poised to join the legend he supplanted at Syracuse to form the most powerful backfield in football.

Then, a different kind of impossible became all too real.

Davis isn't a hero to me because he was a great player, or he was ever so briefly a Cleveland Brown. Certainly not simply because he battled acute monocytic leukemia for nearly a year before losing the war. He remains so because he's a hero to my biggest hero - my father.

Dad told me often of how they'd see Ernie Davis in '62 and '63, working out at the YMCA and treating the progeny of the projects like royalty. In Cleveland, a Brown is bigger than life, and yet Davis was more human than most. That example was passed on to me through my father, the most selfless person I've ever known. His hero on the field was Jim Brown, but I knew that his hero off of it remains Davis, in his heart of hearts.

A young man whose experiences with racism during his college years did not shake the foundation of his character is something to behold, and as such, I encourage you to view the trailer for The Express, the film treatment of his life.

I had the blessing to receive the example of Ernie Davis through generations, but you can gain the same through a simple trip to the library. I encourage you to read, and learn.


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