For the past five weeks, The Juice Online has counted down the top 5 running backs in Syracuse history. In the final installment, we name Ernie Davis as No. 1 on our list.
WHY HE’S NO. 1: This is one of the most iconic names in college sports history. Just hearing his name gives me chills. He has a statue on campus that overlooks the quad, and the field inside the Carrier Dome is named in his memory. His nickname was “The Elmira Express,” and he was the first black football player to be awarded the Heisman Trophy. He rushed for 2,386 yards and scored 32 touchdowns in his three years at SU. He also led the team to its first and only National Championship in 1959. In that Cotton Bowl against Texas, Davis was named the Most Valuable Player. He was an All-American in both 1960 and 1961 and was eventually inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
AFTER SYRACUSE: The Cleveland Browns selected Davis with the overall No. 1 pick in 1962 NFL Draft. Davis also was drafted by the Buffalo Bills of the AFL. Davis signed a three-year $200,000 contact with the Browns, the largest rookie contract in the NFL at the time. He was to be paired with fellow Syracuse legend Jim Brown in that backfield. Unfortunately, Davis never got a chance to stretch his legs at the pro level. He died of leukemia May 18, 1963 at the age of 23. The Browns would eventually retire his No. 45 jersey. On Oct. 10, 2008, the motion picture biography, The Express, was released with the world premiere in Syracuse.