Donovan McNabb looked around at 38,550 Syracuse fans in attendance and reflected back on his own college days.
"We will never forget playing in front of you guys and bringing you that excitement every Saturday," McNabb said. His No. 5 jersey was retired during halftime of Syracuse's 13-0 win over Wake Forest.
McNabb played four seasons with Syracuse, from 1995-98. He had a 35-14 record as a starter and led Syracuse to an Orange Bowl appearance in his senior season. McNabb let out a wide grin as he watched a black curtain being pulled down to reveal the white, No. 5 jersey. It sits right next to No. 9, the jersey of another Syracuse quarterback great, Don McPherson.
Dr. Daryl Gross presented a large plaque to McNabb, who was surrounded by his college teammates. The ceremony was even more special because he got to spend it with them, McNabb said.
"None of this would have been possible without these guys standing behind me right now."
McNabb has been back on campus for the past few days. On Friday, he spoke to the media at Manley Field House about the old days, spanning everything from beating Miami to the late nights spent on Marshall Street and South Campus. His favorite Syracuse memory came in Carrier Dome, but it wasn't a football win.
"For me it was walking across that stage and graduating here at Syracuse University," he said.
McNabb said he was the first person in his family to get a four-year college degree. While speaking in the newly re-designed Iocolano-Petty Football Wing, McNabb explained the importance of giving back to his alma mater.
"Being a part of a rich tradition here at Syracuse, I think it’s important that you always try to take time out and give better opportunities to the younger generation that follows you," he said.
Besides donating to SU and being a member of the Board of Trustees, McNabb occasionally visits the Syracuse football team. He says he's confident Syracuse football can get back to the level of the late 90's.
This week, he spent some time with current Syracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt.
"You’ve seen a glimpse of a young man in T-Hunt that could possibly be the guy for years to come," McNabb said. "He has all the intangibles – a strong arm, attitude, the brains – and that’s where it starts."
Said Hunt, "It was a great opportunity to watch film with Donovan McNabb. He helped me with a lot of little things."