Monday, October 13, 2008


What's in a number?

To some people its superstition. To others its a reminder of their past. Others don't really care about it. But to some, its tradition.

That is the case on the Syracuse football team with #44. A number that has been worn by the greatest running back ever, Jim Brown, the first black Heisman winner, Ernie Davis, his successor, Floyd Little, and one of the toughest backs ever, Larry Csonka. All attended Syracuse and wore this storied number.

None of their stories were as dramatic and inspirational as Ernie Davis, recently depicted in the movie "The Express." Growing up in Uniontown, Pennsylvania and losing his father at the age of 12, Davis had his share of hardships as a child. And, oh yeah, he was a black in a turbulent America.

Davis was a beast at his high school in Elmira, New York, later gaining the nickname of the "Elmira Express." In recruiting Davis, Coach Schwartzwalder even brought along Jim Brown to solidify Davis' commitment to Syracuse.

The movie was good but possibly dramatized too much in order to sell tickets and make money. But despite that, the movie captures the ups and downs of Davis' life, including the 1960 Cotton Bowl against Texas, where the movie portrays Texas as barbaric, hateful beings. Although some of this may be true, some sources indicate that it is not.

Ernie Davis' life was all about football. That was until his grandfather, a father figure to Ernie, died and Davis was diagnosed with Leukemia. Davis remembered the color of his skin and wanted to be a role model for young African-Americans across the country. Although the movie does capture some of the caused inspiration, it does not fully depict the lasting effect Davis had on college football and American society.

Davis was a great man. He weathered the racial storm. He never backed down. He was courageous in the face of hatred. He was #44.

But in the end, only one number mattered: 23. The age Ernie Davis reached before passing away because of leukemia.

He deserved better.

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