"The Express" is the dramatic story of Ernie Davis, the first African-American player to win college football's Heisman Trophy. The film follows Ernie from his struggling childhood in a racist, discriminatory Pennsylvania to his triumphant football career at Syracuse University to the time just prior to his untimely death. The film focuses primarily on Ernie's life following the Syracuse head football coach's successful recruitment to bring Ernie onto the team as the successor to the All-American running back Jim Brown. The 1959 season is highlighted specifically as Ernie's breakout year that catapults him into the national spotlight. Mainly through Ernie's powerful exploits and superb running talent, Syracuse is able to challenge the University of Texas for the national championship at the 1960 Cotton Bowl. Despite having to overcome several leg injuries and racial bias from the referees Ernie's heroics at the end of the game lead Syracuse to its first football national championship.
The following season, Ernie Davis became the first African-American player to win the Heisman trophy. He would join the Cleveland Browns of the National Football League after he graduated from college but illness consistently kept him from playing until he finally was forced to announce he had been diagnosed with leukemia. In one final gesture to honor Ernie's greatness as a football player as well as a human being, the Cleveland Browns allow him to dress in uniform and take the field as a Brown.
The film closes with the notice of Ernie's passing at the age of 23; never getting the opportunity to display his talents in the NFL, a dream he always carried until he passed. The film relives many of Ernie's spectacular moments on the field as well as the obstacles that he faced off of it, which helped make his 1961 Heisman Trophy win even more impressive due to the circumstances and time period in which it came.