This is not about complaining how things were handled in the past. This is not about my being disappointed in the Syracuse administration or AD Dr. Daryl Gross. This piece is simply about why I think the time has come to bring back a Syracuse tradition and restore the #44 on the field.
I love Syracuse football. I was raised on Syracuse football and it is the biggest reason I bleed Orange. I remember hearing stories as a kid about the greats who wore #44 and it made me appreciate the program even more. Mr. Jim Brown, Mr. Ernie Davis and Mr. Floyd Little are legends and nobody will ever replace them in our hearts no matter who wears the jersey. I don’t need to see the next Brown, Davis or Little on the field; I just want to see the next Syracuse player who chooses to embrace the fans and our tradition. I have watched footage of the great ones (or as I like to refer to them as the #44 Founding Fathers) and grew up listening to stories about these men and I would NEVER disrespect them or their place in history. I simply feel that the number 44 being retired does not honor the program or these player but simply appeals to a tradition that every sports program in this country adheres to.
However at Syracuse we had a different tradition and we loved it. We showed our love by talking about who wore it and watching someone else carry on the torch. I sincerely doubt the majority of the fans would have watched this past season and if Bailey or Carter wore the jersey, tried to compare them to the #44 Founding Fathers. Most fans would have just enjoyed watching them play while also listening to stories like I did as a kid about the legacy of this number. My grandfather was not even born in this country but when his family settled in the Syracuse area, he grew up appreciating their history and loved Ernie Davis as he told me often. If my grandfather were alive today, he would be rejoicing in the reviving of Syracuse football and encouraging me to keep those memories alive.
Check the stands in the Carrier Dome on Saturdays and count all the #44 jerseys that show up every week as a symbol of their love for this program. For that matter, check out the fans who attend lacrosse, basketball or any event (even walk around the Syracuse area on your average day) just out of respect and love for the program and school. We don’t hang it up in trophy cases with someone telling them not to touch it; we wear it proudly as a badge of honor to show that we are Syracuse and we are proud of our history. We also love seeing the players wear it on the field and for many, part of the excitement that surrounded the program had something to do with wondering who would wear the #44 this season.
I have been told that this is no longer a recruiting tool. These kids these days would not know anything about those who wore it before them. I beg to differ and think that with Syracuse Head Football Coach Doug Marrone in charge of our program right now, he is recruiting the type of players who would appreciate this honor. And even if some of them may not know about it, I promise you that the current upperclassmen understand it and appreciate it. Coach Marrone is bringing back an environment that many of us longer for when times got tough and what a better way to show Syracuse football is back than by bringing back the jersey and allowing the fans the thrill of seeing #44 back on the field.
I will end this piece by bringing up the film “The Express.” I have watched this movie several times and though there may be factual errors, it is a movie about a great man who was not only important in Syracuse history but also college football history as well since he was the first African-American to win the Heisman (though we all know Jim Brown should have won it as well). If you watch the movie, you will see the players recruiting each other (Brown to Davis and Davis to Little) and also see a discussion between “Coach Schwartzwalder and Ernie Davis” about wearing the jersey. I was not born when these interactions took place so therefore I was not present for any of the actual conversations however if passing down these traditions were so important then, why can’t these still be our traditions?
I love showing appreciation for the legends and that is why so many people took offense to the Ernie Davis statue when they found errors. We love these men and what they accomplished for our program and college football in general and take offense when others try to muddy their memories. I have no problems with statues or buildings named after them to remember them fondly. I think though that in haste to show our love and respect for these men, a tradition was ignored that this program and its fans considered sacred. Many fans were disappointed because they thought Syracuse football was being hijacked and their voices were being ignored. Coach Marrone is here now and fans feel like he is embracing Syracuse football and restoring it back to the glory days that made many of us wait in anticipation for the fall season in Syracuse. I ask you, why not help promote that by recognizing what many of Syracuse’s most passionate fans have been calling for over the past few years and RESTORE 44?