Friday, February 01, 2008

ERNIE DAVIS: THE ELMIRA EXPRESS by Robert C. Gallagher

The Book: Robert C. Gallagher, ERNIE DAVIS, THE ELMIRA EXPRESS: The Story of a Heisman Trophy Winner. Bartleby Press (trade paperback reprint), 1999. Fine condition.
First read: 2005
Owned since: 2005

I don't care much about football. I never really understood the game until my mother explained it one Saturday afternoon in 1983, when we sat together with nothing else to talk about, watching the Army-Navy Game. She used to describe it as chess, which still doesn't make much sense to me.

That said, I've spent more time than most people over the last two years on the modern history of American football, and this book was the beginning of it. It's the basis for THE EXPRESS, coming from Universal Pictures in October of this year; the director is my lifelong friend Gary Fleder, and I've worked as researcher on the movie since he first took on the project.

Ernie Davis (1939-1963) was one of the greatest football players of all time. He broke every record at Syracuse University, was the first African-American student to win the Heisman Trophy, and was responsible for breaking George Preston Marshall's disgusting color barrier at the Washington Redskins -- though Ernie wound up being drafted by the Cleveland Browns. He died of leukemia before he ever got to play a professional game, and John F. Kennedy himself sent a telegram to Ernie's funeral.

Davis died as he lived, bravely, honorably, determined to do the right thing. He didn't live long enough for his life to get complicated, and this book is not much more than straightforward reporting of the public events of his life. Gallagher interviewed many of the people who knew Ernie, but they all seem to have said the same thing: he was a great athlete and a fine young man.

He deserves a longer, closer look, one that places him in the context of his social history. Although The Express, like all movies, takes some liberties with the historical record, I think it does give us that broader view, and I can't wait to see it in a theater.

In the meantime, I guess I'll watch the Patriots this Sunday -- and wonder which of the young men on the field even know who Ernie Davis is.

Oh, and I mustn't forget: today, the first of February, 2008, is also the birthday of my newest cousin (once removed), Miss Audrey Robesky. Welcome to the world, Audrey, congratulations to Sarah and Will, and a safe homecoming to Will very soon.

What I Read This Week

Tasha Alexander, A Poisoned Season. A charming historical mystery set in Victorian England, featuring the young widow Lady Emily Ashton. Lady Ashton investigates two mysteries: the poisoning death of Mr. David Francis, and a series of thefts of items that once belonged to Marie Antoinette. Both crimes seem related to the recent society debut of Mr. Charles Berry, the latest pretender to the French throne. We hear a little too much about Lady Emily's attractions, but she's good company.

Patry Francis, The Liar's Diary. Surface similarities to What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal fade once the real creepiness of this story takes over. Jeanne Cross, school secretary and doctor's wife, forms an unlikely friendship with the new music teacher, Ali Mather. Ali's determination to find out what Jeanne's avoiding leads to deadly consequences, and Jeanne's unreliable narration leads to a truly shocking ending. An impressive first novel.

3 comments:

norby said...

You aren't actually going to root for the Patriots are you? I know you live in Maine and all but still. The Patriots?

AnswerGirl said...

Depends on where I end up watching the game. I have no allegiance to either team, though Dad's a big Giants fan. But I've learned my lesson about trying to be a contrarian in Red Sox -- er, Patriots Nation.

JIM LAMB said...

And the fact that the Giants are in the Super Bowl is what got me home this morning.

Yes, I'm home. All in one piece and no broken bones, although I thought of staying in the Islands until the Azaleas bloomed, I had to come home to watch the Giants.

I could have seen it on a super sized screen in any of the Virgin Isands, but the loudest mouth in my local hangout is a Patriot fan who has been telling me all season how bad the Giants are. Either outcome, I get the satisfaction of seeing him squirm because I think it will be a close game.

I had a great time in the Islands, but I am exhausted and need to recuperate. I'll send some pictures and post on my blog if I can figure out how to do that without losing them.