By Fred Topel | Image property of Universal Pictures
The Express will tell moviegoers the story of Ernie Davis, Syracuse University's winning running back in the '60 and the first ever African-American recipient of the Heisman Trophy. Rob Brown plays Davis, and he got an education on Davis himself.
Rob Brown Leads The Express
"I knew that he went to Syracuse," said Brown. "I knew he won the Heisman and that was it."
Brown had some football training already, playing wide receiver for Amherst. Switching to running back didn't throw him off. "I was like a kid in a candy store because playing receiver, you’re in a parameter, you’re on the outside, you’re on an island so to speak. You run a route. You’ve got to run your route. Guy’s got to protect it, got to pick up blitzes. The quarterback has to make a great throw. You catch the ball and that’s it. You play running back, you’ve got the ball in your hands for most of the time. It was a lot of fun. I kind of felt like why didn’t I play running back?"
The football scenes were staged for film, but Brown was really running and tackling. "We played. The differences were in the game today as opposed to playing ball 45 years ago. That was the difference, so a lot of guys lead with their head these days, or their chest, back then people used their shoulder more often so Coach Allan Graf had to stress things like that. Little things like if I was to score today I’d give my friend a high-five. This movement didn’t exist back then. People didn’t do this all these chest pumps and stuff so things of that nature were different. But playing it’s just football and coaches say things all the time. In a lot of ways we just played and we had a lot of guys who are basically division one ball players ,a lot of USC guys because Coach Graf’s an SC guy. He wears his ring all the time and his son played center."
He may be an actor now, but Brown couldn't fight his football urges all the time. "Whenever I could I tried to stick a shoulder in somebody or try to do something I wasn’t supposed to do. I was told very early on that I couldn’t take any hits because that would jeopardize the production. If I get hurt we’re messing up, so I did as much as I could up until they said no and then brought in one of four doubles I had."
Focusing on the '60s style of football actually helped Brown get into the mindset of Davis. "A lot of my coaches would say things like, 'When you come on the field don’t walk. Run.' That’s the mindset I kind of took because it’s Ernie Davis. You can’t just be slacking around with your helmet off on the field. That’s another thing, 'Don’t take your helmet off on the field.' I don’t know if anyone’s from Cleveland but Dwayne Rudd did that a couple of years ago, lost the game. He was celebrating, took his helmet off, that’s just disrespect. It’s a rule that’s in the rule book but no one calls it because it’s just like you just don’t do that. So I kind of looked at the overall culture of the sport and I really wanted to respect it as Ernie did, down to shoelaces being tied. My doubles were sagging something, 'Hey man, tuck that in. Don’t disrespect the game.'"