Syracuse University

Davis won Syracuse's first Heisman thanks to a fine all-around season in 1961. He is the first black player to win a Heisman Trophy.

"The Elmira Express"

Ernie Davis

RB | Senior | Syracuse University

Davis won Syracuse’s first Heisman thanks to a fine all-around season in 1961. He is the first black player to win a Heisman Trophy.

Born in New Salem, Penn., Davis moved to Elmira, New York, when he was 12 and soon revealed himself to be quite an athlete. He played baseball, basketball and football at Elmira Free Academy, earning high school All-American honors in the latter two sports. Davis led the school’s basketball team to 52 consecutive victories, but his first love was football. He was heavily recruited by some of college football’s top programs, but was swayed by NFL great Jim Brown, who convinced Davis that Syracuse, Brown’s alma mater, would be a welcoming place for a young black athlete.

The 6-2, 211-pound Davis rushed for 686 yards and 10 touchdowns as a sophomore, earning the nickname “The Elmira Express” and the first of three All-America selections. Davis scored two touchdowns to help the Orangemen beat Texas, 23-14, in the Cotton Bowl as Syracuse won the national title.
Davis totaled 877 rushing yards on an outstanding 7.8 yards per carry during the 1960 season, setting the stage for a run at the Heisman in 1961. Davis followed up with another 823 rushing yards as a senior and scored 15 touchdowns while leading Syracuse in pass receiving with 16 catches for 157 yards. The Orangmen finished 10th in the polls and Davis won the Heisman as the nation’s top player.

Along the way, Davis broke Jim Brown’s career records in rushing (2,386 yards), all purpose yardage (3,414), scoring (220 points), and touchdowns (35). Davis capped his college career with 140 rushing yards in an MVP performance at the 1961 Liberty Bowl.

After graduating from college, Ernie was drafted first overall by Washington in the 1962 draft, but quickly traded to the Cleveland Browns. He signed for the (then) astronomical sum of $80,000. Shortly after signing and before he suited up for his first pro game, Ernie was struck down by leukemia. He died on May 18 ,1963, after a sixteen-month battle for survival.

Davis was elected to the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame in 1979.

More Articles About Ernie Davis

Heisman Voting Results

Number of electors: 1,091 - Announced: November 28, 1961.

 PlayerClassPositionSchool1st2nd3rdTotal Points
1Ernie DavisSRHBSyracuse17910381824
2Bob FergusonSRFBOhio State12215693771
3Jimmy SaxtonSRHBTexas8110598551
4Sandy StephensSRQBMinnesota1047868543
5Pat TrammelSRQBAlabama764544362
6Joe RomigSRGColorado554034279
7John HadlSRQBKansas332523172
8Gary CollinsSRWRMaryland283121167
9Roman GabrielSRQBNorth Carolina State232732155
10Merlin OlsenSRDTUtah State13191693

Three points are awarded for first place on a ballot, with two points for second place and one point for third place.

Heisman Voting By Region

At this time, Heisman voters are spread out across five regions.


1Pat Trammel
2Jimmy Saxton
3Ernie Davis
4Roman Gabriel
5Bob Ferguson


1Ernie Davis
2Bob Ferguson
3Gary Collins
4Jimmy Saxton
5Sandy Stephens


1Bob Ferguson
2Sandy Stephens
3Ernie Davis
4Joe Romig
5Jimmy Saxton


1Jimmy Saxton
2Bob Ferguson
3Pat Trammel
4Ernie Davis
5Lance Alworth

Far West

1Sandy Stephens
2Bob Ferguson
3Ernie Davis
4Joe Romig
5Jimmy Saxton


DateOpponentResultRush AttYdsAvg.TDsRecYdsAvgTDsPRYdsAvg.TDsKORYdsAvg.TDsPlaysAPYYPPTotal TDs
9/23/61^at Oregon StateW 19-812685.6622157.500000.000000.00014836.02
9/30/61West VirginiaW 29-1414352.50034414.67122010.000000.00019995.21
10/7/61at MarylandL 22-21141117.92222010.000000.000000.000161318.22
10/14/61at NebraskaW 28-6221205.45211010.000000.000000.000231305.72
10/21/61at #17 Penn StateL 14-014362.570166.000000.00012020.00016593.70
10/28/61Holy CrossW 34-610919.1022199.50012727.000000.00013149*11.52
11/4/61PittsburghW 28-9221195.4012136.501000.00024221.000261756.72
11/11/61ColgateW 51-844912.252000.00011313.000000.00056212.42
11/16/61at Notre DameL 17-1518955.270000.000000.000000.00018955.30
11/25/61at Boston CollegeW 28-1320994.95133010.0003124.000000.00026202**7.82**
Heisman StatsAP #10, UPI #167-31508235.4812161579.81277210.28036220.67017811876.715**
12/16/61+ #19 Miami (Fla.)W 15-14301404.661000.000294.500000.000321494.71
TotalsAP #10, UPI #168-31809635.3513161579.8129819.00036220.67021013366.416

(+) Neutral site.
(^) at Portland, OR
(*) Includes interception returned for 12 yards against Holy Cross
(**) Includes 61-yard interception return for TD against Boston College

Davis had 2 interceptions that he returned for 73 yards on the season.
Davis was also 1/1 passing for 74 yards.


Ernie Davis - Heisman Winner 1961 - Syracuse University
Ernie Davis - Heisman Winner 1961 - Syracuse University
Ernie Davis - Heisman Winner 1961 - Syracuse University