The Ernie Davis story — the tale of the Syracuse running back and Heisman Trophy winner who died from leukemia — is now out in theaters in the feature film, “The Express.”
I had the great pleasure of doing a book with Davis’ roomate, teammate and close friend at Syracuse, Hall of Famer John Mackey — “Blazing Trails — Coming of Age in Football’s Golden Era.” Mackey, as has been well documented, now suffers from dementia, most likely from concussions from his hard-nosed play in the NFL, and wouldn’t be able to speak of his memories of Davis now. But in interviews for the book, Mackey was able at the time to recall his good friend from Syracuse — who had actually loaned Mackey money at Syracuse to take out a date who would eventually become John’s wife — Sylvia Cole, from the District.
Here’s an excerpt from “Blazing Trails” of Davis and Mackey talking when Davis was a senior and Mackey, one year behind, was a junior and not planning on being an NFL player:
“Ernie and I used to talk about our big plans for the future during long nights at the Stadler ‘Hilton,’ the athletic dormitory behind Archibald Field. ‘Man, I’m gonna be the best,’ Ernie said, in that rich, laughing tone of his. ‘Ernie Davis, professional football player. It has a nice kind of ring to it, right, roomie?’
“We lay in our bunks in the dark, talking about our dreams. This was the age of Camelot. John Kennedy was in the White House, and all of America was dreaming of a bright future. It was a new frontier, and Ernie and I were going to be part of it. There we lay, two of only four black players at Syracuse, planning endless possibilities. ‘The NFL is where it’s at,’ Ernie said. ‘Jim Brown has it all, man! I’m gonna be another Jim Brown.’ ‘You still want to be a lawyer?’ Ernie asked me. ‘Yeah, man,” I said. ‘You’re crazy,’ Ernie said. ‘You’re good enough to play in the NFL when you graduate. The money’s great. You can be a lawyer any time after that. Of course, I understand your doubts. You’re not as good as me.’ ‘Not as good as you?’ I answered incredulously. ‘Not as good as you? What’s your number, man?’ ‘Forty-four,’ Ernie said. ‘What’s mine?’ I asked. ‘Eighty-eight,’ he said. ‘Well, then somebody at this school knew that I was twice as good as you,’ I said. ‘That’s why they gave me 88.’ That was our running joke.”
Ernie Davis never got that chance to play in the NFL. He was the number one pick of the Washington Redskins in the 1962 draft, but then was traded to the Cleveland Browns for Bobby Mitchell, when Redskins owner George Preston Marshall was finally forced by the Department of the Interior — the landlords for the new D.C. Stadium — to put a black player on the roster. Davis never played a game in the NFL. He died on May 18, 1963, at the age of 23.
Washington sports lists
Speaking of books, my friend Andy Pollin from ESPN 980 radio has co-authored a fun and interesting book called, “The Great Book of Washington D.C. Sports Lists.”
The book features various lists involving Washington sports, from “Great Nicknames in Washington Sports” to “The Top 10 Local Small College Hoops Legends.” I contributed a list to the collection — “The Top 10 D.C. Area Boxers.”
Here’s my list, in order of ranking of significance:
Sugar Ray Leonard
It’s a great read that you can pick up any time you want to read one list or 10 — such a list of Washington bizarre sports moments, including George Allen considering signing Andre the Giant as a free agent for the Redskins.
I’ve got my wires all crossed. For the past two seasons, I picked the Phillies to make it to the World Series and they came up short. This year I picked the Dodgers, and they came up short, falling to the Phillies.
Loverro on the Radio
I will be on The Sports Reporters on ESPN 980-AM on Friday from 5 to 7 p.m., and Monday, Oct. 20, from 5 to 7 p.m.
To learn more about Thom Loverro, go to www.thomloverro.com