Robert Cooperman, Ernest “Ernie” Davis Gets a Second Chance

Robert Cooperman

His life was as short, sad,
and magnificent as Achilles’,
who lamented in Hades
that if given a second chance,
he would’ve gladly been a plowman
toiling endless hours and years,
rather than be king of the dead.

Davis—the first African American
to win the Heisman Trophy—
would’ve played in the same invincible
backfield with immortal Jim Brown,
but died of leukemia before he could
weave his graceful way downfield.

In his second life, he lived richly
under a different name, and died in ripe,
lucid old age, surrounded by family.
The news media chanted his exploits
like bards at the wolf-ship fire-burial
of a Norse warrior sailing to Valhalla.

At one time, my uncle
was the Heisman treasurer,
and received free baseball caps
emblazoned with the names of each winner.
When he saw me eyeing the one
for Ernie Davis, he asked, “Want it?”

“I’d be honored,” I put on the cap
as if a king’s crown, then walked home,
striding with a grace and power
I’d never known before, but feel
every time I wear that cap:
greatness spilling on me like the liquor
only the gods are fit to imbibe.

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