We went to see “The Express” opening night last week. I am unabashedly biased being a Syracuse alum, but I thought the film was great.
The movie, a biography of former Orangemen football star Ernie Davis, told of his journey from a broken home in the Southern Tier to high school phenom to the first African-American to win the Heisman Award.
The story was sweet and sappy, of course, but it wasn’t without gritty moments detailing the racism Davis went through. Davis’ coach, ben Schwarzwalder, was also rightly kept as a “real person” who preferred not to think aobut the racial overtones of the days’ events, deflecting the issue whenever possible and even warning Davis not to “cross that line” when he gawked a white cheerleader during practice.
Anyone who knows anything about football knows how the story ends; Davis, drafted into the pros, was diagnosed with leukemia and never played a game, dying at age 23. The film does a good job of honoring his life rather than making the viewer simply feel sad for Davis’ fate.
Even when I was on the Syracuse campus some 40 years after Davis, stories continued to circulate about him and the other parts of the three-headed monster of Syracuse’s glory days (Jim Brown, who wore No. 44 before Davis, and Floyd Little, who wore it after Davis). I was at the Carrier Dome when the number was retired a few years ago, but the jersey holds a special place in the heart of all Orange fans; I still proudly wear my No. 44 jersey whenever possible.
The film did not fare that well, opening last weekend at No. 6 ($4.56 million box office gross). Perhaps people don’t want a football film during football season, but this movie is worth seeing anytime, anywhere.
For a group of football fans who have nothing to root for these days, “The Express” was a great reminder that things weren’t always this bleak. All in all, the film served the man and the instution well.
ESPN did a great piece (click here to see it) breaking down the fact vs. fiction of “The Express.”