Reviewing The Express: The Ernie Davis Story

Greg HuntoonCorrespondent IAugust 16, 2009

I can remember the first time I watched many of the movies that I consider my favorites. I stood under the sun for hours for Return of the Jedi as an 8-year-old in a line that stretched around the block.

The smell of cloves and cinnamon are still fresh in my memory from sipping chai in Zanzibar as I watched Malcolm X for the first time halfway around the world.

And while tonight's location and surroundings were much more mundane (alone in my living room sprawled out on my favorite chair) I hope that the emotion and power of Ernie Davis' story sticks with me for the rest of my days.

Perhaps I'm a sucker for the melodramatic. In fact, I know I am. I think I've shed tears each and every time Sean Astin scrambles across the screen and tackles the quarterback at the end of Rudy.

Every time. I tear up when the underdog overcomes the adversity and wins, and when success is found by those deserving.

Something tells me that most people that watch this movie will be touched, inspired and humbled by this movie just as I was.

Because this is not just a story about a kid overcoming great odds to succeed. It's not just a story about racial tensions and how justice prevails. And it's certainly not a story about the happily ever after.

Ernie Davis' story is one that was not well-known to me before this movie came onto the scene. As a lifelong sports fan, it was certainly a name I knew, and I probably could've correctly answered a Trivial Pursuit question about who the first African-American Heisman Trophy winner.

But very clearly, I could not have spoken to the power and the importance he played in the integration of sports, and of our country.

His accomplishments were so great and profound that JFK requested to meet Davis while in New York to receive the Heisman. And when he was honored with his own town holiday, President Kennedy sent the following note for the celebration:

"Seldom has an athlete been more deserving of such a tribute. Your high standards of performance on the field and off the field, reflect the finest qualities of competition, sportsmanship and citizenship.

"The nation has bestowed upon you its highest awards for your athletic achievements. It's a privilege for me to address you tonight as an outstanding American, and as a worthy example of our youth. I salute you."

We all know the stories of Jessie Owens, Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali, and Arthur Ashe, and the great barriers that each rose and conquered, not only for their own sport or themselves, but for the greater good for us all. Well, please add Ernie Davis to that list.

This movie was anchored by three solid actors: Rob Brown from Finding Forrester fame, and Charles S. Dutton and Dennis Quaid, neither of whom need any introduction. No one received any Oscar nods for their portrayals, but everyone in the movie gave fine performances. It was a team effort, and a stellar one at that.

I suppose, for me, one of the great marks of a stellar movie is the desire to go right back to the beginning and watch it all over again. I hope you'll excuse me, because the opening credits are rolling...


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