Friday, September 12, 2008

Ernie Davis & Co.

Tonight is the world premier of the movie, "The Express," the biography of Syracuse University's Ernie Davis. He was an incredible running back and the first black man to win the Heisman Trophy. Traffic will be stopped, an orange carpet will be unfurled on Salina Street. Dennis Quaid, SU former football players, Newhouse graduates and honored guests will walk into the Landmark Theater.

Ernie Davis died of leukemia before ever getting to play in the NFL. I spent the morning addressing envelopes for a fundraiser for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and remembering him. Bob had read to me an article by Arnie Burdick, a local sports columnist, from the Post Standard last night, leaving both of us in tears. Davis was a hero to us as young kids growing up in Syracuse, and probably our first brush with inexplicable death.

I had attended football games with my father, and probably saw Jim Brown play and then of course, Ernie Davis. The games are some of my fondest memories - my father would buy me a corsage from a local florist with an orange SU on the flower and we would walk to the games through Thornden Park. It was our time together.

When I heard of Ernie Davis' death I was in church on the corner of Brighton and Midland, then Atonement Lutheran. Will Headlee, I believe, was the choir director. The word came over the radio and we all stopped, speechless. I remember crying quietly with everyone else. We were stunned. Just the year or so before we had watched him play, watched as he won the Heisman. And now he was gone...? I don't think I even knew he was sick - my parents kept "bad things" from me.

Forty-some years later we lost another young man, a boy who was my son's tennis partner and best friend here in Skaneateles, to lymphoma. I don't think Ernie Davis' death prepared us for this event - nothing does. It's all senseless.

The movie will be difficult to watch but the celebration of a young man's life - and efforts to combat the cancers that ended these lives - must and should continue. I am glad "The Express" is coming to town, to remind us all of how precious life and loved ones are.