The Express

The name Ernie Davis aka "The Express" is ALMOST a household word. I knew it sounded vaguely familiar but couldn't say why. This poignant movie explains it.

Ernie Davis was a legendary halfback for Syracuse University during his college years in the late '50s, early '60s; a two-time All-American; a member of the College Football Hall of Fame; the first African-American to win the coveted Heisman Trophy. This movie showed me why he didn't become a household word like professional football legends Jim Brown, Joe Namath or Terry Bradshaw.

As portrayed by the ever-appealing Rob Brown ("Finding Forrester" and "Coach Carter"), Davis comes across as a polite, lovingly raised youngster who found his forte in high school sports -- football in particular. During his senior year -- in which he was known as the "Elmira Express" -- he was aggressively recruited by numerous colleges, so Syracuse University coach Ben Schwartzwalder, played by Dennis Quaid ("American Dreamz," "Smart People" and "Vantage Point"), uses an irresistible ploy, he brings along one of his former stars, Jim Brown, to help convince Davis to sign with Syracuse. Darren Dewitt Henson ("The Hustle" and "April Fools") is Jim Brown, one of Ernie Davis' role models. The scene where this star-struck high school boy meets his idol is very funny and sweet.

As we all know, in those days the Civil Rights Movement was just getting started, so Jim Crow was alive and well in college football. The episode in the first Syracuse-vs.-West Virginia game starkly illustrates how dangerous it was for a non-white to excel. In fact, Coach Schwarzwalder deliberately takes Davis out of the game just prior to a sure-fire touchdown because of the effect it would have on the spectators if a black player actually scored. It took courageous pioneers like Brown and Davis to breach that seemingly impregnable wall.

Other sports movies have had better editing (see "Glory Road") and other sports movies have enjoyed a happier ending (see "Blades of Glory" ...just kidding...), but Ernie Davis deserves to be immortalized, so I'm glad I went.

As an afterthought, maybe it was just me, but near the end of the movie, one of the play-by-play radio announcers was starting to sound a LOT like Howard Cosell. Hmmm...