Thursday, January 15, 2009

I Want My #44 On The Field

There seems to be a great debate going on in Orange Nation about the status of the #44 Syracuse football jersey. Originally, I took no stance as I thought of it as an honor to retire it as tribute to those who have worn it previously. However I must say that after reading more about this issue, I have come to the realization that the best way to honor it is to continue the tradition of passing it along.

This is not an attempt to humiliate Syracuse Athletic Director Dr. Daryl Gross because though I don't agree with everything he has done, I have no personal vendetta against him (besides I am married, I know how to cope with being imperfect which I have been told I do well). It is also not about minimizing the appreciation of the history behind those who have played wearing that prestigious number. It's about how this was an honor bestowed upon a top player in recognition of what leadership on the field is all about. This was Syracuse's way to pay respect to those who wore it before by continuing its own tradition. Nobody expects the new recruit to be equivalent to that of Mr. Floyd Little, Mr. Jim Brown, or Mr. Ernie Davis but simply play hard to proudly represent on behalf of the Syracuse program.

Spare me the speech about how I am ignorant about how great those who once wore this jersey were. I may not be able to rattle off their stats and occasionally I get things mixed up a little bit but I am anything but ignorant to the contributions those men brought to the Syracuse football program. I was raised listening to my grandfather praise the work of the man he referred to as "the greatest running back to ever play the game" and he was referring to the first African American Heisman trophy winner Mr. Ernie Davis. That history and upbringing is why I proudly bleed Orange and wear my #44 Orange football jersey with a smile on my face (my wife also has instructions to bury me in that jersey when I pass away). The man who wears that jersey won't be the next Mr. Ernie Davis but he may set his own record and lead us to a bowl game.

The word legacy is the best word to describe what the #44 and Syracuse football mean together and by hanging the jersey in the rafters, you make it less about the legacy of the number and more about the history only. We once had a proud tradition we called our own that is now and forever more then just another average ritual of every other sports team. The number is still significant and nothing could ever tarnish what it has meant to a school that is so filled with a rich past. However now that number is merely a symbol of the past and no longer the gold standard to which a promising young player can thrive to excel. But hey, the youth don't respect history anyway , right? So let's just put it in a museum somewhere and maybe tear down the Carrier Dome while we are at it in exchange for some fancy suite heavy, expensive, state of the art arena. Because after all, it's not the tradition anymore as much as it about how much we can prosper off of ceremonies and change while leaving history in a bottle somewhere. The #44 is more then memories to many fans, it is you, it is me, and it is everyone who bleeds or has bled Orange. Restore 44 and let us continue to honor the past as we also build on our future.

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