Syracuse Football: The Problem With 44

Joe Robbins

It was a number of legend that became almost fairy tale. So the retired 44 jersey is better off hanging from the Dome's roof, right? Well...

It's a debate that's really not even open for discussion: What to do with number 44?

A number, a jersey, a legend, a myth...

Syracuse University retired the jersey for football nearly a decade ago! A giant replica of the jersey -- designed to represent the greats like Jim Brown and Ernie Davis and Floyd Little -- hangs from the roof of the Carrier Dome. What to do with it? More like, What can be done with it? Move it from end of the Dome to the other?

It's retired!

But the fate of the 44 jersey continues to creep into conversation for Syracuse Orange football fans. And the way I see it, there's two camps on completely opposite sides of the fence: happy the school retired the jersey/number; angry the school retired the jersey/number.

An old argument, yes, but an argument that's not going away anytime soon:

The power of 44.

Personally, my heart tells me to bring the jersey down from the Dome ceiling, let some worthy player run for glory with those digits on his back! Plus, given the Davis statue and the still relevant legacy of Brown, 44 could be something of a recruiting tool -- a smallish tool, but a recruiting tool nonetheless.

A very good point -- what's done is done, let's not make this a "thing." I'm talking to you Daryl Gross, PHD.

Plus, my head says the jersey should stay high above the Ernie Davis Field/Jim Boeheim Court because it has become a bigger phenomenon by the school retiring it. Handing it out now and one bad game, one bad play, the new-44 would be crushed. Wearing 44 meant pressure before, now, at least locally, it could be the weight of the Syracuse Football world on one kid's shoulders.

(Don't think Nike hasn't tried, Andrew. Look at what its doing with Dwayne Wade!)

So, although the debate continues there's really nothing to be done, right?

You know something, I like it!

An amazing idea from Brent...

Well then.

Still, the point remains, maybe 44 isn't given out to incoming players, but rather awarded to career Orange men who have paid dues, proven their worth, and may be more apt to actually handle some of the pressure of wearing a number worn by Brown, Davis, Little, etc. Obviously, one bad game and the kid would still get crushed, but I honestly think the Orange fan base would lay off a senior who's been there and done that in the program.

Call me the eternal optimist.

Which actually leads me to another reason why my heart tells me 44 should pull a Michael Jordan and un-retire -- something something Double A baseball something -- because Syracuse football doesn't have any real traditions! Jingling keys? Singing songs about opposing teams sucking? C'mon! I know the program has produced legends, had some big moments, and there is the still relatively new Davis statue - sans the Nike kicks - but Syracuse doesn't have anyone dotting the i, or lining up between the hedges, or placing decals on helmets, or having song girls in sweaters! (Flipping the flags at Varsity is pretty damn cool, but other than that?)

Bringing 44 back and making it an honor of the highest degree, handed out on an irregular basis, would be...a little strange at first, yes. But then five or ten years from now, if a player, or two, was deemed worthy, the newness would wear off. Instead, it would become a big talking point: "Hey, do you think "Smith" is worthy of 44 next fall?" Season previews would include that question, or make a point to highlight a player that was set to wear 44.

Pretty cool, no?

It would all depend on whether a player was actually ready to wear it, of course. And it certainly could create tension, especially if there were multiple candidates for the number, or if there wasn't a candidate at all. Not to mention the fact 44 is a number usually reserved for running backs/full-backs. A worthy senior on the defensive line isn't likely to be eligible for the honor -- which certainly could be a problem.

But in the end, Syracuse would be starting a new tradition by utilizing a tradition that's woven into Central New York's fabric. This is a way of creating new moments and reliving the past memories. I'm in my 30s, I didn't see Brown or Little, but my Dad made sure to tell me all about them. In fact, that's probably why a lot of us revere the jersey so much, because of stories told to us by dads, uncles, grandpas. But eventually those stories lose a little something, from one generation to the next.

Bringing 44 back to the field, every so often, only for a worthy player, would bring those stories alive again, and at the same time secure some stories for the future.

Of course, none of this even matters, because 44 is a ghost to Syracuse football.

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