"How's everybody doing today?" Patriots head coach Bill Belichick greeted the audience.
The response was a chorus of small voices joining together in an overwhelming: "Good!"
Those voices belonged to over 100 children from the Boys & Girls Club of East Providence and Woonsocket, R.I., and Taunton and Watertown, Mass., along with groups from the San Miguel School in Providence and Ahearn Middle School in Foxborough. On Tuesday, Belichick spoke to the group invited by the Patriots to a special advance screening of "The Express: The Ernie Davis Story" shown at Showcase Cinema De Lux at Patriot Place.
The new Universal Pictures film tells the story of Ernie Davis, the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy. Davis led Syracuse to its first championship in 1960 during a time of racial unrest. He went on to be the first player chosen in the 1962 NFL Draft.
Tragically, Davis never played a down in the NFL. As he was preparing to play for the Cleveland Browns, he was diagnosed with leukemia and died in 1963 at the age of 23.
"It's a sad story because he was such a great player and a great person, loved by everybody," Belichick said. "But he never had the chance to play pro football."
Belichick spoke about the importance of persevering through all of life's obstacles, using Davis's story a positive example of triumph through trial. Parallels that can transfer from the football field into everyday life.
"Every year, there's always something that happens to your team-you lose a tough game, or a player gets injured-something happens that's a little bit of a setback. The great teams, the great players and the great people in life, overcome those things. They find a way to work through and, basically, it comes down to consistency."
The Patriots' three-time Super Bowl-winning head coach also quizzed the audience before the film started to roll.
"Do any you know what number Ernie Davis wore?"
To which a couple of hands were raised and the called upon pupil correctly replied, "44."
"You're really on top of this," Belichick smiled.
Perhaps sitting in the cushy red seats was the next generation's great NFL coach, but, at the very least, some valuable lessons were learned.