Even if you find yourself with a lot to do this weekend, make sure you check out “The Express.”
Rob Brown ("Finding Forrester," "Coach Carter") stars in this riveting flick based on the real life story of Ernie Davis, the first black Heisman Trophy winner. Davis, a running back that led Syracuse University to its first national championship in 1959, slipped into the cleats vacated by the legendary Jim Brown at SU. Brown and Davis would have joined forces in the Cleveland Browns' backfield, but Davis died of leukemia at age 23. He never got an opportunity to play a pro game.
Brown, who played Division III football at Amherst College, talked about his new film and football during an exclusive interview with WTF.
WTF: How much did you know about Ernie Davis before making this movie?
RB: No, I knew he went to Syracuse and I knew he won the Heisman. That was it. People keep asking me what attracted you to the role. I’m like man, what didn’t attract me to the role.
WTF: What did you find most inspiring about Ernie’s story?
RB: Most inspiring to me was his affect on people. There are people my age in Syracuse—and I’m 24—with anecdotes about Ernie that were passed down from their parents and so forth. It’s like how can this guy who passed away at such a young age make such an impact on people? I think the most inspiring thing is that people look at him as an example—what would Ernie do?
WTF: You played wide receiver in high school and college. Did you aspire to be a pro athlete?
RB: Naw, I just enjoyed playing and it was a way for me to get to college. I never had pro ambitions.
WTF: Omar Benson Miller told me he felt that he was the best athlete of the bunch. Would you concur with that assessment?
RB: Ah, no.
WTF: Did you have to school him a bit since he played baseball and hoops?
RB: Yeah, he didn’t know much about football but we went to a Browns game and he was loving it. He got into it. He expressed to me that they tried to get him to play football when he was younger. He’s got good feet for his size, you kind of gage that upon meeting him. He would have been a good football player in my opinion, but he’s a baseball guy.
WTF: I heard you didn’t take any of the hits for real, but did you do your own running?
RB: Yeah. Even though I was a wide receiver at the end of the day it’s all football. It was just a matter of getting used to hand-offs as opposed to running routes. But whenever I could I tried to stick a shoulder in somebody or 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 got hurt.
WTF: What were your conversations like with Jim Brown?
RB: I didn’t speak with him at length until the Syracuse premiere. So, I relied heavily on Gary Fleder (the director) because I know Gary and Jim had significant talks. I kind of figured if I was doing something wrong, Mr. Brown would have told us.
WTF: Did you purposely not talk to Brown and Floyd Little because you didn’t want them to influence your portrayal of Ernie or did those opportunities just not come up?
RB: It was a little bit of both. I think in a lot of ways it was just better to let us figure it out on our own.
WTF: You had real college coaches and players working on this film but was there any situation in which you had to speak and say hey that wouldn’t work?
RB: Oh yeah, all the time because Gary doesn’t know football that well. So whenever coach (Allan) Graf wasn’t around that’s when I would step in and say, ‘No, that’s now how it’s done.
WTF: You’re a New York guy. Are you a Giants fan?
WTF: Are they coming back?
RB: We’re 4-0 now and playing well so I think we have a good shot at the title.
WTF: Are you a little worried about the Cowboys?
RB: (Tony) Romo doesn’t have a playoff win yet.