It was exactly November 28, 1961, when Syracuse University running back Ernie Davis became the first African American football player to win the Heisman Trophy.
No African American had ever won this prestigious collegiate award until ‘61, but during a tumultuous period in the United States that saw numerous men, women and children divided over the idea of race, it certainly brought out the meaning of equality for all.
Davis remains the only Syracuse player to win this prestigious award, and was a major component of the team’s National Championship victory against the University of Texas in the Cotton Bowl Classic in ‘60. He also was named the most valuable player in the ’61 Liberty Bowl, and was featured twice on the All-American First Team roster between ’59-’61.
However, despite a very successful collegiate career with the Orangemen, Davis never played a single down in the NFL due to his battle with leukemia. He was the number one pick in the ’62 draft by the Washington Redskins, but was acquired through a trade with the Cleveland Browns, where his number (44) was retired.
On Monday, Noontime Sports honors the spirit and life of Davis, who not only changed the game of college football, but also provided a ray of hope for many African American men, women and children. He became a hero and an idol, as well as someone President John F. Kennedy described as, “a worthy example of our youth.”