Ernest Davis: The Elmira Express

Story by Isaiah Lipscombe. Photo by

March 2, 2015: Ernest Davis is a successful, talented athlete who died young at the age of 23. His legacy of greatness surpassed his death even though he never played a game in the NFL.

Ernest R. Davis, also known as Ernie Davis, was born on December 14, 1939 in New Salem, Pennsylvania. He never 

knew his father because he died shortly after he was born. At 14 months, he was given to the care of his grandparents. Davis had also had a stuttering problem. At age 12, he went to live with his mother and stepfather in Elmira, New York. He attended Elmira Free Academy. There he played football, basketball, and baseball. He was an All-American in two sports. He led his high school’s basketball team to 52 consecutive wins. From there he moved on to Syracuse University.

At Syracuse, Davis didn’t play his freshman season. He played his sophomore season and had 686 rushing yards, and 10 touchdowns. He was then given the nickname “The Elmira Express”. Syracuse won the national championship that year. In his junior year, he ran for 877 rushing yards and averaged 7.8 yards per carry. In 1961, his senior year, he ran 823 rushing yards, won the Heisman trophy, and Syracuse won the Liberty Bowl in which he ran 140 yards in that game. When he left Syracuse, his overall college stats were 2,386 rushing yards, 6.6 yards per carry, and 35 touchdowns—which set all the Syracuse records. At one of the 1962 College All-Star game practices he was diagnosed with leukemia. His treatment began immediately.

At the 1962 NFL Draft, Ernest Davis became the first African-American to be selected first overall. He was selected by the Cleveland Browns. Due to illness he never played his rookie season. He died May 18, 1963 in Cleveland, Ohio due to cancer. Ernest Davis never played professional football.

Isaiah Lipscombe is a 9th grade student at Friendship Collegiate Academy.