Note: Ernie Davis participated in the Third Annual Liberty Bowl, held in Philadelphia, PA on Dec. 16, 1961. Earlier in the year, Davis became the first Syracuse player to ever receive the Heisman Trophy; more importantly, however, he was the first African-American to win the coveted award. His 2,386 career rushing yards broke the Syracuse record previously held by football great Jim Brown. Tragically, Ernie Davis died two years after graduating. He was a victim of leukemia, which ironically is a disease that St. Jude Children’s Hospital, a long-time sponsor of the Liberty Bowl has made tremendous strides in treating.
By Joseph M. Sheehan
Special to The New York Times
Philadelphia, Dec. 16 (New York Times)- Syracuse spotted Miami of Florida a 14-0 lead in the first half of the Liberty Bowl football game today. Then the Orangemen, with Ernie Davis leading the charge, roared back to a 15-14 victory after the intermission.
Ken Ericson provided the winning margin by place kicking the extra point after Syracuse's second touchdown, scored on a 7-yard pass from Dave Sarette to Dick Easterly. A Sarette-to-Easterly pass had given the Orange 2 points after their first touchdown, made by Davis on a 1-yard plunge.
Miami also made a 2-point conversion, on a pass from George Mira to Bill Miller, after Nick Spinelli's 60-yard scoring punt return just before the end of the first half. But the Hurricanes had missed a kicking conversion try following Jim Vollenweider's 12-yard scoring run in the first period.
Despite bone-numbing 22 degree weather, the teams played a tremendous football game. Unfortunately, only 15,712 spectators turned out at the 100,000 seat Philadelphia Stadium in the cold. The weather threatens the continuance of this three-year experiment with Northern post-season football.
However, it must have made a tremendous show for the national television audience. The spectators, fieldside and fireside, saw Davis of Syracuse fully justify his two season rating as an all-America halfback. In a rousing finale to his brilliant varsity career the indefatigable 215-pounder from Elmira, N. Y. put on one of his greatest performances.
Held to 38 yards on ten rushes in the first half, and suffering a slight back strain to boot, big Ernie caught fire after the intermission and ignited Syracuse's winning rally by his indomitable running.
On twenty more explosive sallies into, through and around Miami's hard-bitten line, Davis made 102 yards for a total of 140 for the day. It was the most times he ever had carried the ball in a game, but he said afterward, "I could have carried twenty times more if it had been necessary."
Syracuse's great man said he would defer his decision on which professional contract to accept for at least two weeks. The Cleveland Browns of the National Football League and the Buffalo Bills of the American Football League are bidding spiritedly for his services. He also has an offer from the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian League.
Davis was the spearhead of Syracuse's two scoring drives in the second half, which the Orange completely dominated. He carried three times for 17 yards on a six-play advance of 42 yards. It ended with Davis crashing over for Syracuse's first score at 9:58 of the third period.
On the 51 yard march to the Orange's second score, he contributed 21 yards on four mighty rushes. And such was the respect Miami held for him that three beguiled Hurricane defenders tackled him when he faked into the line on Sarette's scoring pass to Easterly.
This was a beautifully executed play. Sarette feinted a handoff to Davis, who hit off right tackle, then rolled to the right and fired a perfect pass. Easterly, who had broken out from his position on the right wing and was clear in the end zone, made the catch.
It went this way through much of the contest. When Davis didn't carry the ball, he was an effective decoy as a man in motion flaring to the outside or on feints into the line after faked handoffs. This use of Ernie added greatly to Sarette's passing effectiveness.
Syracuse's senior quarterback, a new man since he donned contact lenses, completed thirteen of twenty-six passes for 148 yards. On these figures he substantially outdid George Mira, Miami's touted sophomore passer.
Although that young man was mighty impressive for his agility, his deception and his quick release of the ball, he was throwing in bad luck. Mira had only seven completions in twenty-one attempts for 94 yards and missed open targets on several occasions.
It actually should have been an easy game for Syracuse. After a sluggish start, Coach Ben Schwartzwalder's power-packed but well-balanced Orange attack all but overwhelmed the vaunted Miami defense, which had yielded only three touchdowns and short yardage in its preceding games.
Syracuse, doing most of its damage in the second half, outgained Miami from scrimmage, 369 yards to 203, while rolling up twenty-one first downs to Miami's eleven. The Orange ran eighty-two offensive plays to fifty-one for Miami in a convincing display of ball control. But Syracuse's errors, plus Miami's stubbornness, made this a hard contest for the New Yorkers. The Orange lost the ball twice on fumbles inside the 10 yard line and was stopped on the 27, when it never should have been, and on the 2.
Miami cashed in on its one sustained advance early. Thereafter the Hurricanes got inside Syracuse's 40 only twice, each time being promptly thrown back. Miami did not cross midfield in the final period.
Confident of their defense, Coach Andy Gustafson's Hurricanes elected to kickoff after winning the toss. To a point, this strategy worked. Miami kept Syracuse pinned in Orange territory in the first period. And on its second time with the ball, Miami moved in from midfield for a score. Starting from its 48 after a Syracuse punt, Miami moved 52 yards to a touchdown in four plays. The big gainer was Mira's 28 yard pass to Larry Wilson. This produced a first down on the Syracuse 12. From there, the hard-running Vollenweider went over in one stampeding charge through Syracuse's right side. Bob Wilson's conversion kick was wide. Later, that proved significant.
In the second period, Syracuse finally worked out of the box. But after a promising drive from its 12 had produced a first down on Miami's 23, Davis fumbled on his way to another first down. Miller, Miami's all-America end who doubles as a defensive safety man, recovered on the 8.
Shortly afterward, Syracuse drove deep into Miami territory again. But, with a yard to go on fourth down on the 27, Sarette, who had a sure first down if he had elected to run, threw unsuccessfully on an option play. The chance was lost.
From this defensive stand Miami moved on Vollenweider's running to Syracuse's 28. But the Hurricanes were thrown back to the 47 and on third down Mira overthrew Miller, clear in the end zone. A few minutes later Mira again missed connections with Miller, who had gotten clear behind Davis for a possible touchdown.
Just when it seemed that the first half would end with the score still at 6-0, the fleet Spinelli fielded a Syracuse punt on the 40 and sped untouched to a touchdown. What appeared to be an uncalled clip gave him running room and he picked up two other crushing, legitimate blocks en route. Mira's nifty rollout conversion pass to Miller then put the score at 14-0.
On the running of Davis and the passing of Sarette to John Mackey and Easterly, Syracuse quickly moved from the second half kickoff to a first down on Miami's 4. There the Hurricanes braced and got out of the hole when Larry Wilson recovered Bill Schoonover's third down fumble on the 2.
The next time Syracuse got the ball, however, there was no stopping the Orange. Davis crashed over with plenty to spare behind the surging of his line. Before the third period had ended, Miami made one last excursion across midfield. The Hurricanes reached Syracuse's 38 but had to punt from the 42.
In the fourth quarter, Syracuse kept coming on. The dam finally burst after Schoonover had pounced on a Miami fumble on the Orange 49. With the aid of a 15 yard personal foul penalty, Syracuse took the ball in from there in seven plays. After the Sarette to Easterly touchdown pass, Ericson's conversion put the New Yorkers in front.
Syracuse kept in command for the remaining ten minutes. It missed a touchdown by 2 yards on a drive from midfield initiated by its second team when Sarette was knocked out of bounds short of the goal on a fourth down option rollout. There was a final flurry of excitement when Mira passed Miami out to midfield, but Davis batted down a long pass close to his goal line.
|The immortal Ernie Davis, Heisman Trophy winner 1961, carries in the Liberty Bowl.|
Jim Vollenweider scores in the first quarter.
|Miami’s Jim O’Mahony twist as he attempts to tackle Syracuse’s Jim Ericson.|
Mira hands off to Sam Fernandez.
UM - Vollenweider 12 run (kick failed)
UM - Spinelli 60 punt return (Miller pass from Mira)
SU - Davis 1 run (Easterly pass from Sarette)
SU - Easterly 7 pass from Sarette (Erickson kick)
SU- Davis 30-140
UM- Vollenweider 11-67
SU- Sarette 13-26-148
UM- Mira 7-21-94
SU-Easterly 4-50, Mackey 4-49