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Solon grad Davis inducted into hall of fame
Solon grad Davis inducted into hall of fame
By TONY LANGE
Winning a national championship in college and an NFL championship in the pros catapulted Roger Davis, a Solon High School graduate, into the Greater Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame.
Mr. Davis was among eight inductees into the 34th class last Thursday night in a ceremony at Landerhaven in Mayfield Heights.
His trophies are visible from his Nationwide insurance office on Harvard Avenue at East 176th Street in Cleveland. That's where 10 trophies peer from a window the size of two front doors. The square glass is framed by a red, brick building with green awnings. Lady C's Barber Style Shop abuts next door.
Left of the window and through the metal barred door, certificates rest along a wall shelf in a short hallway. Beside the certificates, a deflated football rests. With alternate shades of leather, it appears to be from another time period.
Across the hall, Davis, who stands 6-foot-3, works in an office with just enough space to kick his feet atop a wooden desk while he reclines in his swivel chair.
Davis, 72 and a resident of Pepper Pike, has worked at the insurance agency for 44 years after a stellar football career.
Some 400 people attended the enshrinement ceremony. They enjoyed cocktails, hors d'oeuvres, dinner and the ceremony. Davis had five tables filled with out-of-town teammates, local friends and family. "My crowd was wild there. Everything was first class," said Davis, who received a plaque with a sketching of his Chicago Bears football card on it.
The following night, he was honored during the Solon against Hudson football game.
Solon head coach Jim McQuaide said Davis is the most decorated and award-winning athlete in the history of the school.
"Our whole program is based on the tradition of everybody that played before and we do things that have been done for many, many years," McQuaide said. "He's a great example of that, with what he's been able to accomplish as a Comet. He lives in the area, he was at our game Friday so, he's still a Comet."
Davis was 6-foot-3 and weighed 205 pounds during his senior year at Solon. As several players do nowadays, Davis started on the offensive and defensive lines. During his playing days, however, Solon didn't have as many options. His 1956 graduating class only had 36 students. Today's classes graduate about 450.
"You had to be pretty bad if you couldn't make the sports teams," Davis said. "We used to get killed by Mayfield. We never won any championships."
The championships happened on the baseball diamond, he said. When Davis was a junior, he played on the state final team at the tournament in Columbus. He lettered in baseball his junior and senior years.
Davis lettered all four years on the football team, and, with his height, he did the same playing on the basketball team.
He remembers beating Chagrin Falls in basketball during his senior year. The Tigers went on to win the state championship title that year, he said.
"Basketball, that's how they scouted me for football," Davis said.
Davis was not one of Syracuse University's top recruits. The body sleds, as well as other equipment the Orangemen trained with, were all new to Davis.
"I was very lucky to go there. The freshman coach says, 'Who's that kid?'" Davis recalled. "They said, 'He got a scholarship from Solon, a little school in Ohio, and, well, he'll never be able to play here.'"
Little did his teammates know, Davis would be featured as "the 230-pound pride of the Syracuse line," in the 25-cent Nov. 2, 1959. Sports Illustrated issue. A picture labeled, "The Davis boys on the go," spotlighted Davis leading the way for his halfback teammate, Ernie Davis, who scored a 57-yard touchdown on the play during their game with West Virginia.
The undefeated Orangemen beat Texas in the Cotton Bowl that season. It was the only time Syracuse won a national championship in football. That year's team still holds the all-time record for the lowest rushing yards given up per game.
Also in 1959, Davis won the Outland Trophy, which is awarded to the nation's best college linemen. He was the United Press International Lineman of the Year and selected to the Associated Press All-America team.
His teammate, Ernie Davis, got the nickname "Express" that year and became the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy two years later in 1961. He was drafted by the Washington Redskins and traded to the Cleveland Browns, but died of leukemia before playing one game in the NFL.
The national championship victory over Texas was the last game in an Orangeman uniform for Roger Davis.
In 1960, the Chicago Bears drafted Davis in the first round and the seventh pick overall.
He said he remembers meeting with George Halas, the Bears' coach from 1922 to 1967. There was no television, no agents and no negotiating. The contract was for $10,000 with a $2,500 bonus, Davis said.
"He says, 'Don't tell the veterans how much you're making or they'll hate you,'" Davis said, while recalling what Halas told him. "Nobody made any money back then. The owners were making all the money."
One of his fondest professional football memories was the NFL championship he won with the Bears in 1963. They beat the New York Giants, 14-10.
"Oh, that was fantastic, because we beat the Giants, and it was at our field," Davis said. "It was just one of those teams that clicked that year. The Packers were expected to win that year. Many teams had had better personnel."
Traded to the Los Angeles Rams in 1964, Davis said he was not enthusiastic. "I did not like the Rams at all," he said. "My last two years, I was with the Giants, and I had my knees operated on. Nowadays, concussions are the big thing. All my buddies say that's what's wrong with me. I got hit in the head too many times," he said, joking.
Davis was released in 1966. In December of that year, he got licensed to sell insurance, and it's the only job he has had since, he said.
Nowadays, he likes to play cards, go to casinos and follow sports, he said. He is a Cleveland Browns and Ohio State Buckeyes fan. He has two daughters, two sons and seven grandchildren.
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