FLOWERY BRANCH — Dennis Quaid is eager for a new generation to hear the story of 1961 Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis.
The 54-year old veteran actor made a public relations stop at Atlanta Falcons practice on Wednesday afternoon to talk about his new film, “The Express,” where he plays the role of Davis’ coach at Syracuse University, Ben Schwartzwalder.
The movie paints a picture of the hurdles that Davis — the first African-American to win the award for the nation’s top college football player— faced during his playing career at Syracuse University.
Quaid says his latest movie is a story that needs to be told, about a man that lived his life with grace against the grain of a nation still gripped by segregation.
The movie is based on the 1983 biography, “Ernie Davis: The Elmira Express.”
“Ernie Davis came along and lived his life with such grace,” Quaid said. “He tore down barriers without saying a word.”
After tossing the ball around with members of the Falcons, and posing for a few pictures, he explained this was one of the most profound roles he’s played in his 30-year acting career, and ranked it at the top with his other favorite sports role in “The Rookie.”
In this role as coach of the Heisman Trophy winner, who died at 23 from Leukemia, he plays a no-frills, straight-talking coach.
Quaid got into the role of the coach with the help of Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown, who was Davis’ predecessor in the backfield at Syracuse.
The Cleveland Browns’ running back painted the picture of the relationship between Schwartzwalder and Brown as often abrasive. Through the film, he says that Brown now has a new respect for his college coach, who died in 1993.
“He (Jim Brown) was my main source in researching this role,” Quaid said. “Jim says he was very pleased with the outcome.
“This is a movie that transcends football.”
Atlanta Falcons players were eager to get to chat with Quaid when he arrived at the team’s South Hall training complex, after he walked onto the practice field. He made his way into Flowery Branch by way of helicopter that landed on the Flowery Branch High baseball field.
Quaid’s first order of business when practice ended was to chat with rookie quarterback Matt Ryan.
Then the left-handed Quaid spread passes around between all of Atlanta’s quarterbacks, including Ryan, D.J. Shockley and Chris Redman.
So which Falcons quarterback does the movie star that played the role of quarterback ‘Cap’ Rooney in the movie “Any Given Sunday,” think has the strongest arm?
“I’ll say the starter does,” Quaid said hesitantly.
Quaid can joke about his football playing prowess, or lack there of, since he never actually played football growing up in Houston. That’s how the self-described late bloomer ended up in the school drama department.
Quaid has also stared in box office hits, such as “The Day After Tomorrow,” “Frequency,” and “Wyatt Earp”.