American Football season has started! This week we set up our fall-into-winter football ‘shrine,’ complete with signed footballs, pictures, mugs & Terrible Towels (must wait until it’s colder to air the blankets & throws…)
In honor of this auspicious occasion (it looked there for awhile that we might not see much NFL football this year), last night we pulled out “The Express” DVD that I gave Papa awhile back. What an inspirational story! We were impressed again with the courageous hearts of both Ernie Davis (Rob Brown) and Syracuse University head Coach Ben Schwartzwalder (Dennis Quaid) as they tackle so much more than football on & off the fields of the 1950s.
“21 straight lines five yards apart. That is a football field. But there are other lines you don’t see that run deeper and wider. All the way through the country, and aren’t part of any game…”
Papa waxed nostalgic as the movie begins in 1949 on the railroad tracks of Uniontown, PA (located 5 miles from Papa’s hometown of Greensburg just outside of Pittsburgh) where Ernie lived with his grandparents. Pops – his inspiring grandfather who works in the coalmines – encourages him in every way…
“By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain… though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me.” (I Corinthians 15:10)
Young Ernie stutters through these words at the dinner table that echo through the movie as he develops into who he is, by the grace of God: an incredibly gifted football player. Moving to Elmira, New York, he plays so well in high school that Notre Dame and many schools try to recruit him, but Coach Schwartzwalder brings along African-American football standout Jim Brown to successfully help his cause. (“You’re fast, but Coach will make you faster. You’re good, but Coach will make you better…and if you tell him this, I will come down from Cleveland and wring your neck!”)
As Jim Brown lays it on Ernie, Pops challenges Schwartzwalder, “what kind of man are you? …My grandson will spend four years learning from you, so… what kind of man are you?”
Ernie heads to Syracuse, where it’s not easy being an African-American player during the 1950s Civil-Rights era – even in the North – but especially when they play the University of Texas Longhorns in the 1959 Cotton Bowl National Championship (a nail-biting game!)
Two years later Ernie Davis became the first African American to receive the Heisman Trophy. In his acceptance speech, he thanks Coach Schwartzwalder for ‘making me better, teaching me so many things, and for…being a good man.”
There’s so much more to this movie – overcoming adversity, discrimination, a snapshot of the challenges faced down by early African American football players – but my favorite part is how the team changes & how Coach Schwartzwalder changes. His half-time ‘pep talk’ during the Cotton Bowl lays it on the line: “this is not just about football. This is about making history…for ALL your teammates.” There’s also a love interest, Sarah, and more to tug your heart strings as Ernie Davis signs on to play for the Cleveland Browns, but…you might need a hankie or two by the end.
There’s so much to take away (what kind of man or woman are you? the kind to sit by & let the status quo oppress others, or get up and do something about it?) just like with “Remember the Titans” – one of my all-time FAVORITE movies (a Football flick set in Virginia starring Denzel Washington that is also set quite high on Virginia – the person’s – high-frequency viewing monitor!) – “The Express” is quite outstanding. Highly, highly recommend…(!!!)
If you want to learn more, the movie is based on the book, “Ernie Davis: The Elmira Express” by Robert C. Gallagher. This morning I was quite taken to see just what kind of man Coach Schwartzwalder really was (during WWII as paratrooper Captain he was awarded a Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, 4 battle starts & a Presidential Unit Citation!) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Schwartzwalder
Grace, peace & Inspirational Football Heroes (on & off the field!)
Virginia : )