Ernest "Ernie" Davis was the first African-American college football player to win the Heisman Trophy. Wearing number 44, Davis competed collegiately for Syracuse University before being drafted by the Washington Redskins, then almost immediately traded to the Cleveland Browns in December 1961. However, he would never play a professional game, as he was diagnosed with leukemia in 1962.
Davis played football for Syracuse University, and went on to gain national fame for three seasons (1959-1961), twice winning first-team All-American honors. As a sophomore in 1959, Davis led Syracuse to the NCAA Division I-A national football championship, capping an undefeated season with a 23-14 win over The University of Texas in the Cotton Bowl Classic.
Davis found discrimination prevalent in the American South during his Cotton Bowl Classic visit. Author Jocelyn Selim writes that at the banquet following the 1960 game, Davis was told he could only accept his award and then would be required to leave the segregated facility.
The big, rugged 6'2", 212-pounder, played left halfback and was his team's leading ground-gainer for three seasons. He completed with 16 catches for 157 yards. He broke Jim Brown's career records in rushing (2,386 yards), yards gained all ways (3,414), scoring (220 points) and touchdowns (35).
Davis became the first black athlete to be awarded the Heisman Trophy, following his 1961 senior-year season at Syracuse University. President John F. Kennedy had followed Davis' career and requested to meet him while he was in New York to receive the trophy. Later in 1963, when Elmira chose February 3 to celebrate Davis' achievements, Kennedy sent a telegram, reading:
ďSeldom has an athlete been more deserving of such a tribute. Your high standards of performance on the field and off the field, reflect the finest qualities of competition, sportsmanship and citizenship. The nation has bestowed upon you its highest awards for your athletic achievements. It's a privilege for me to address you tonight as an outstanding American, and as a worthy example of our youth. I salute you.Ē
During his time at Syracuse, Davis wore the same number, 44, as legendary Orangeman Jim Brown, helping to establish a tradition at the school that was acknowledged on November 12, 2005, when the school retired the number in an on-field ceremony.
In the second closest vote in Heisman history, Syracuse star Ernie Davis edged out Ohio State bruiser Bob Ferguson by a mere 53 points. Davis managed to win only the East as five different players captured the sections. Alabamaís Pat Trammel won in the South; Jimmy Saxton of Texas in the Southwest and Sandy Stephens of Minnesota won the Far West.
Joe Bellino | Ernie Davis | Terry Baker | Roger Staubach | John Huarte | Mike Garrett | Steve Spurrier | Gary Beban | O.J. Simpson | Steve Owens
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