1959 - 63 Orangemen
(Authentic Reproduction)




Hopes for another title run were high but tempered by Schwartzwalder due to key graduation losses. After five opening victories, they dropped games 10-0 to Pitt and 9-6 to Army on successive weekends. Psychologically that seemed to take it out of the squad although Tarbox, Bemiller, Gilburg, Walter Sweeney, John Brown, and weightlifting end Fred Mautino did a fine job on both sides of the line. QB Sarette, FB Art Baker, soph HB John Mackey, and of course, Ernie Davis who was the nation's number three rusher with 877 yards and an All American, remained a formidable group of skill position players. Gilburg among the linemen was a relative unknown throughout his career as a player and coach but he would play tackle and punt for the Colts and later serve as an assistant coach at Hofstra. He became the decades-long head coach at Franklin & Marshall, and the award for the best punter in Division III is named after him The squad’s 7-2 record was cause for optimism entering '61 and Davis turned in a Heisman winning and All American performance, supported by end Sweeney, tackle Dave Meggyesy, and guard John Brown on the line, and Sarette and Mackey in the backfield, although Mackey was moved to end and flanker throughout the season. The under rated Brown joined Davis as a Cleveland Browns’ draft choice and played ten years in the NFL split between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. They dropped a one point game to Maryland, a controversial last-play-of-the-game-field goal tilt to Notre Dame, and watched Penn State capture the best in the East Lambert Trophy but salvaged something from the season with a tough 15-14 victory over Miami in a frozen Liberty Bowl.


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Before and after his tragic death, everyone who knew Ernie Davis said he was "perfect" and no one ever disagreed. Chapter and verse have been written about "The Elmira Express" who came from Elmira Free Academy and stole the records and the thunder from the legacy of the immortal Jim Brown, and then stole the hearts and devotion of all Syracuse fans. From those who knew him as a high school All American to the acquaintances made at Syracuse and later in his brief time with the Cleveland Browns, the quality of his character was a constant. The words most often used were "gentleman", "gracious", "polite", "well-dressed and well-mannered", and on the field, "as tough as they come." It was often said that Davis played because he loved to play and for no other reason. He set a wonderful example for his teammates, always deflecting attention and sharing praise directed at him. He attended Syracuse because of Jim Brown's influence, broke Brown’s statistical records, and won the Heisman Trophy in 1961. He was an All American in 1960 and '61 but more importantly elevated the play of those on the field with him, both teammates and opponents. Tough but considerate and polite on the field, an unusual combination that won the accolades of opposing coaches and players, Ernie Davis rushed for a school record of 2386 yards, 823 in his senior year. He added 400 yards in receptions and totaled a career high of 3414 yards as a dangerous return man when Schwartzwalder used him in that capacity. Davis lettered as a basketball player in 1961 and could have starred in a number of other sports, but always felt a loyalty to be at his best for his football teammates. Most importantly, as when he led the team towards the 1959 National Championship, when coming through in the clutch in bowl games, or against the Orangemen's fiercest rivals, Davis was at his best. He could do it all and was chosen as the Browns' first draft choice but never played a down for them due to illness. He handled his leukemia as he did everything else, with courage and dignity, never complaining, and remaining his usual cheerful presence. Ernie Davis passed away on the morning of May 18, 1963 without ever fulfilling the vast potential he had, yet he is still spoken of in reverential tones for both his athletic ability and character.  


Losing Davis to graduation for 1962 was a major blow but John Mackey came into his own and 220-pound sophomore FB Jim Nance picked up a lot of the slack in the running game. Meggyesy, later to become a Cardinal LB and cause quite a bit of controversy with his stinging tell-all book knocking Syracuse football, and Sweeney who would be a multi-time All Pro standout with the Chargers for twelve seasons and finish a distinguished pro career with the George Allen Over The Hill Gang Redskins, ( see HELMET HUT article at ) were the leaders up front. After Walley Mahle took over the QB job, the Orangemen reeled off five victories in their final eight games to finish at 5-5. Mackey departed for a Hall Of Fame career with the Colts and Coach Ben was hoping that Nance would blossom in '63, augmented by speedy Charlie Brown. The projection was that a QB tandem of Mahle and Rich King would make up for the losses suffered among the linemen from 1962. The team was solid beating Penn State, West Virginia, and a poor Notre Dame squad but losses to Kansas and an upset by Pitt dropped them to 8-2. Nance was considered somewhat of a disappointment due to issues related to his weight and inconsistent play but he would come into his own for his senior farewell which also marked the debut of yet another Syracuse rushing legend.

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