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Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Davis, 23, succumbs to leukemia
By Larry Schwartz
Special to

May 18, 1963

After a 13-month battle against acute monocytic leukemia, the most virulent form of blood cancer, Ernie Davis succumbs to the disease and dies early this morning in a Cleveland hospital.

In 1961, Davis became the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy. A two-time All-American halfback, he rushed for 2,386 yards in 360 attempts (6.6-yard average) and scored 35 touchdowns in his career to break the school records set by the player who helped recruit him and the first of the great Syracuse 44s, Jim Brown. The Washington Redskins made Davis the first pick in the draft on Dec. 4, 1961 and then traded him to Cleveland for halfback Bobby Mitchell and one of the Browns' No. 1 picks, halfback Leroy Jackson.

The Browns signed Davis to a three-year contract worth $80,000, the largest deal ever given to an NFL rookie. While practicing for the College All-Stars that summer, it was diagnosed he had leukemia and that he actually had been afflicted with it since April.

"This is a great personal loss," Jim Brown says. "He was a tremendous individual. He realized this was going to happen eventually, but he was courageous in the face of everything. He never showed his feelings to any of the guys. I never caught him with his head down. He just carried on normally as if nothing was wrong."

Ernie Davis was 23.

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