If I was a football player, my nickname would probably be "floor mat" or "potato sack" or "pancake." But Ernie Davis was a naturally talented, insanely fast, quick-thinking, football superstar who inspired a whole lotta people, so he got the nickname:
Which is sooooo much better than "Tomato Face"
The Express: The Ernie Davis Story is about Ernie Davis (duh) a small town kid who had a great natural talent as a running back.
We first see this when Ernie and his uncle (who's pretty much the same age as Ernie) are collecting bottles by the train tracks near their house in Pennsylvania.
They run into a group of white boys who don't like that Ernie and his uncle have ventured a little too far from home for their liking.
Ernie's uncle takes off and jumps the train, leaving his bag of bottles behind.
This kid was BORN to play the role of the asshole child. He's probably a philanthropist now.
So Ernie outruns the band of wicked children by leaping over fences and running really really fast. Meanwhile, his uncle is walking home, freaking out that Ernie has probably been kicked to death, when who comes running down the street, but Ernie Davis. That is when we find out that Ernie is an exceptional little dude.
Ernie is also really inspired by Jackie Robinson because duh, Inspirational Sports LIFE.
Ernie lives with his grandpa and they have a big supportive family. Ernie has a stutter and they still ask him to read out loud at the kitchen table and they support him as he stutters his way through the text.
One day, Ernie's mom comes home and announces that she's gotten married to a really nice guy who wants to take care of Ernie and support him, which is good news. But also, she's going to take Ernie and move to Elmira, New York which is pretty far away from Pennsylvania and Ernie's uncle and Grandpa (as played by Charles S. Dutton aka ROC).
Ernie moves to Elmira and discovers football. From his first game all the way through high school, it was obvious that Ernie had a special talent for football and running.
So, by the time he's a senior in college, all the big football schools want him to play for them. They all visit and watch him play and try to woo him into joining the team.
Meanwhile, Jim Brown, star running back for the Syracuse University football team, is about to graduate and has signed with the Cleveland Browns. At a press conference he makes sure to mention that although he was All-American and broke pretty much every school record in rushing, he didn't win the Heisman.
The actor they chose to play Jim Brown is very easy on the eyes.
Not that Jim Brown himself was anything less than a magical creature in short shorts:
Heeeeeeyyyyy, those are some quads.
So Dennis Quaid is the coach of the Syracuse football team and I'll say it now Dennis Quaid should ONLY be in inspirational sports movies (as evidenced by his appearance in "Our Winning Season," "Breaking Away," "The Rookie" and, apparently in development, "Soul Surfer"). I hereby name Dennis Quaid to m.lady's Inspirational Sports Movie Hall of Fame where he joins Robbie Benson and Anthony Mackie:
Jim Brown and the coach don't get along so well. Jim finds out that the coach is trying to recruit a new running back and Jim is all, "You know, it was really hard being here what with the rampant racism and all."
But, the coach convinces Jim to help him recruit Ernie because he tells Jim that Ernie Davis has the potential to be as good as Jim is, if not better.
Jim has a heart to heart where he tells Ernie that it won't be easy, but that the Coach will make Ernie the best player he has the potential to be and before you know it, Ernie is on the Syracuse University campus.
This guy is the mandatory racist teammate who will one day learn the error of his ways and appreciate Ernie for the man that he is.
Ernie pretty much immediately becomes a star on the team. His family gathers around the radio to listen to his games and they get really excited when the announcer says Ernie's name.
During a break from school, Ernie goes to visit his uncle, who is played by an actor you may recognize.
Ernie's uncle helps him to realize that just by playing football as well as he does, he is inspiring people. Because it's 1959-ish and, in case you can't see the pictures, Ernie Davis is black. And, even in upstate New York which is pretty far North, he still has a lot of struggles with racist assholes and politics.
His uncle helps Ernie to see that, like his hero Jackie Robinson, Ernie can make a difference by being one person who is extraordinary.
Then, sads, Ernie's extremely supportive and kind grandfather dies
And Ernie finds that he's been collecting all the newspaper clippings he could find about Ernie.
Weighed down by grief, Ernie kind of loses it and trains all day and all night.
Ernie kind of reaches a breaking point. He realizes that he is not playing football just for himself. But he is part of a team and he is also showing all those little kids out there who don't think that they matter that they can make a difference and they can make a name for themselves and this is where the viewer begins to CRY.
So, they're playing a big game in West Virginia, I think, and the fans are so angry that black players are on the field that they're yelling and booing and throwing garbage on the field for the whole game. The coach, concerned for the safety of the players, keeps pulling Ernie right before the team scores a touchdown because he thinks that the crowd will riot. Well, Ernie isn't having any of it and he refuses to let the coach substitute him.
The team eventually makes it to the Cotton Bowl where they are playing for the big Championship or something. College football is really confusing.
The game is intense. There was a big fight and both teams ran onto the field and engaged in fisticuffs.
But Syracuse came out on top and Ernie was named the MVP!
And then he was nominated for the Heisman Trophy.
And he WON! You see, he was the first black athlete to be awarded the Heisman Trophy.
And he got to meet JFK! Ernie Davis was on top of the world!
All was not right inside his body.
Something was going on with Ernie, he was tired, breathing was hard, he had nosebleeds. The doctors weren't sure what was wrong, but they knew it was something. So the owner of the Cleveland Browns (where Ernie was the #1 Draft pick) tells Ernie that he can't play until they figure out what's wrong with him.
Ernie is devastated.
Then the official announcement.
Ernie Davis had Leukemia. He tells the press that his doctors are optimistic and he is confident he will play for the Cleveland Browns in the future.
Just like he did with Jim Brown, the coach asks Ernie to help him recruit a promising young running back.
On the recruiting trip, Ernie tells the kid that he knows he will never play pro football. Ernie tells this kid what he hasn't told anyone else: He knows he's dying.
In the first game of his first NFL season, Ernie runs on to the field with his team, which was a surprise to everyone in the crowd. They cheer like crazy!
God this movie is a heartbreaker.