You Can Have #44 Back When You Pry It From DOCTOR Gross' Cold, Dead Hands

I'm willing to bet that if you care about the #44 issue, you probably want the number un-retired.  It was retired back in 2005 as the Greg Robinson Era began and I couldn't think of a more apropos time to eliminate the traditional elements of Syracuse football than to coincide with the beginning of the worst era in the history of SU.Wouldn't it be perfect timing to bring it back?

You've probably heard of the Restore 44 movement and the Daily Orange wrote an article about it and the push to put #44 back in rotation.

"I think it was a misunderstanding to retire the number in the first place," said Brian Roll, a 1998 Syracuse alumnus. "We should make a U-turn and un-retire it."

Roll said the retirement of 44 has been bothering him for many years. He voiced that opinion to some of his fellow graduates and found they shared in his discontent. He started the Facebook group "Restore 44" to see what kind of reaction the idea would have.

He immediately received e-mails from current students and graduates from as far back as the class of 1960. What he called "a cross spectrum of football fans," all had the same message: "bring 44 back, it's so unique to Syracuse, it should never have been retired."

For the most part people seem to be behind the efforts.  People besides, say, the director of athletics for Syracuse University:

"Just like Major League Baseball has retired Jackie Robinson's number 42 for all of baseball, we have retired number 44 out of respect for Ernie Davis, the first African-American to win the Heisman trophy, as well as Jim Brown, the greatest football player ever, and Floyd Little, our only three-time All-American," Gross said in a statement.

"Out of respect to these men and their accomplishments, number 44 will remain retired," Gross said. "The number 44 will always be displayed prominently in the Dome so no one ever forgets the legacy."

That's the thing though, Doc.  People will forget.  Especially those who don't live in Syracuse or go to the University.  Look at the box office for The Express, everyone else HAS already forgotten.  And without a reminder on the field every time SU plays, they'll continue to forget.

I actually got quoted as well in the article but I figured I'd post my entire e-mail to the D.O. on the issue.  Consider it my rebuttal.

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Short-term, there's really no harm in the retirement of #44.  The problem will only be evident if the policy is still in place 20, 30 or 50 years from now when the next few generations of Syracuse fans grow up. 

The generations before us actually attended SU or rooted for the football team when players like Jim Brown, Ernie Davis and Floyd Little created the mystique behind the number.  They have tangible memories of watching them play or seeing them in person.  It was the stuff of living legends.

As you moved forward to the time of students and Syracuse fans who came of age in the 90's and now, like myself, you're dealing with fans who never got a chance to see the truly great 44's play.  They exist in newsreel footage and YouTube videos and tributes that, while we can see them any time we want, don't provide us with a true memory of their greatness.  We're still close enough that many of us watched the 44's that came after them such as Larry Csonka or Rob Konrad, but 44 is really more of an iconic tradition to us.

It's like baseball fans who can appreciate Ty Cobb and Christy Mathewson.  We know they were great players and we're reminded of them often in discussions but ultimately they're just names on a plaque and faces in old, grainy photos.  We think back most fondly on the players and traditions cultivated in our youths and our lifetimes.  Anything that happened before that is old news...especially if there's no connection to the present.

That's how the generations that come after us are going to view the great 44's of Syracuse's past.  With no new superstars to carry the torch of 44, there will be no connection to the number and what it means to SU.  Will a teenager in 2050 care about SU players from 1950?  Will they even know who they were?  Will Jim Brown and Ernie Davis be anything more than just names of a list?  Will anyone besides old Syracuse fans and Denver Broncos fans be able to tell you anything about Floyd Little?  Even if fans go to the places where their records and photos are held in high esteem, will they have any emotional resonance?  Probably not.  Young fans will stroll by nodding politely the way kids in Cooperstown do when looking at photos of baseball players from 1910.

We need the tradition of 44 to continue at Syracuse so there is always a tactile connection to the present.  There doesn't always have to be a player wearing the number but it makes its so much more impactful that I can say I saw a great player wear 44.  Personally, I saw Rob Konrad wear that jersey proudly for the Orange just as so many fans can say that about the other great Syracuse 44's before him.  It's something that binds us, our memories and our shared traditions.

Think of what it would mean if the next great running back recruit came to Syracuse and was handed the 44 jersey right now.  Think of the buzz that would create.  It's not an overstatement to say it would be an exciting event for Syracuse fans.  And all it would be was the assigning of a jersey number.  It sounds so silly but, well, so be it.

Does it put pressure on future players to live up to a standard?  Absolutely.  Is that unfair and would there be disappointments?  I have no doubt.  But therein lies the reason you would do it.  Only the very best get to wear #44 at Syracuse University.  Why wouldn't we want a player willing to take on that responsibility and that stature?  The kind of player who we one day erect statues in honor of and make movies about.  God forbid, we might actually find another all-time great.

Coach Marrone gets what Syracuse University and its traditions are about and, although he's never broached the subject publicly, I'm willing to bet he'd like to see the number reinstated.  If he gets SU football back on track and becomes a hot commodity, he might just be able to use that to make it happen.  Let's hope so on all accounts.

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