The left-handed quarterback was a member of Chanel High School’s first graduating class in 1961 and went on to star at Miami of Ohio and later with the Cleveland Browns, where he made all-pro.
At Miami he was an all-conference signal caller for three straight years from 1962-64. He is still Miami’s all-time total offense leader with 3,978 yards. His 88-yard touchdown pass led to a 10-7 victory over Purdue, which was called the biggest upset of the 1962 college season.
Ernie was drafted in the 12th round of the 1965 draft by the Dallas Cowboys, who already had Don Meredith firmly entrenched at quarterback, so they moved him to defensive back. In those days it was not uncommon to move an athletic quarterback to defensive back. Although Ernie had not played defense since high school, he was a quick learner and was making progress. But when the final cuts were made, Ernie was released. He was determined, however, to play pro football and his resolve paid off.
Acting on a recommendation from Miami coach Bo Schembechler, Browns coach Blanton Collier signed Ernie to the Browns’ taxi squad in 1965. He practiced with the Browns but never dressed for a game.
In 1966, however, an injury created an opportunity at safety and Ernie seized the chance. He started most of the season and intercepted three passes. He went on to start for five seasons and was a key backup for a sixth campaign. Ernie was a starting safety in the 1969 Pro Bowl. The Browns made the playoffs four times with him in the lineup.
After being cut by the Browns, he hooked on with the Cincinnati Bengals for the 1972 season and with Buffalo for the ’73 campaign. Ernie then retired and remained in business in the Cleveland area.