In 1939, the city of Elmira, in Chemung County, became home to a sports legend. During high school, Ernie Davis excelled at a number of different sports, but had a natural athletic gift for football. In 1958, Davis became a running back for Syracuse University where he flourished. Number 44, as he became known, was an integral part of the university’s team and Davis was selected Most valuable Player in 1960, for the vital role he played in the Cotton Bowl.
In 1961, Ernie Davis became the first African-American player to receive college football’s highest honor, the Heisman Trophy. Nicknamed the Elmira Express, Davis also won the Walter Camp Memorial Trophy that same year, and in 1962, he was drafted by the Washington Redskins. Davis was then immediately traded to the Cleveland Browns.
However, tragedy struck when Davis was diagnosed with leukemia. As a result of his diagnoses Davis never played a professional game. Ernie Davis died in 1963 at the age of 23 and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, but his legacy as an outstanding player and trailblazer make him and important part of New York’s Path Through History.
Photos Courtesy of:
The Chemung County Historical Society