As most Syracuse Orange football fans know, it’s been over two decades since any SU player last wore the number 44. DOCTOR Gross hanging it in the rafters sort of put it on ice for a bit, but the last decade has renewed conversation about the hallowed digits yet again.
Today, we’re discussing the latest player to potentially show himself worthy of wearing 44, Sean Tucker. I’m arguing in favor of giving him the number, while Kevin will present the case for why not.
Why it’s time to #Restore44 for Sean Tucker
Whenever we’ve brought up why the number can’t be completely retired, the biggest reason is that if you leave it off the field for too long, it loses its history and meaning as something the program can market. In a similar, but opposite vein, it also makes the number seem unattainable — when in fact, not every 44 has been a legend over the years.
So while Tucker doesn’t have to be a legend after putting this number on, I’d dare to say he stands a pretty good chance to become one just the same. And no, this isn’t just about what he did vs. Albany (“only” become the first Orange player to ever collect 100 yards receiving and 100 yards rushing in the same game).
In less than a full season as Syracuse’s starting running back, he’s already collected 993 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground, along with 261 receiving yards and another TD through the air. He’s averaging nearly 5.3 yards per carry in his young career to-date, despite running behind a mostly mediocre line. And given what we know about play-calling over the last season-plus, the fact that he’s managed to put up these numbers is a minor miracle.
While again, it’s not a rule that a 44 needs to be a dominant force, who’s the last running back for Syracuse that truly dominated on offense the way Tucker has? Jerome Smith, SU’s last 1,000-yard rusher, was still part of a potent offense and a lethal 1-2 punch in the backfield. Antwon Bailey was more of a workhorse. Delone Carter might be the answer, but those offenses were still miles better than this one.
Damien Rhodes could’ve worn the number, and same goes for Walter Reyes and James Mungro of the post-Rob Konrad backs. They didn’t, however, which is no knock on them. But it does speak to just how high of a bar mythology has potentially set at this point.
To that end, Tucker is not backing down from that legacy and actively appears to want to embrace it!
Tucker is unlikely to be the first Orange running back to want to wear 44 since 1998. However, he’s one of just a handful that could potentially live up to the mythos — and already has, in some ways, on the field for Syracuse. The fact that he’s entertaining the idea is a great thing for Orange football, too. If they take the jersey out of the rafters for Tucker, it creates a national marketing opportunity for the program, an instant recruiting pitch and a brand identity where Dino Babers’s teams have seemingly lacked for one of late.
It would be fitting, potentially, to award the number to a deserving successor of the legacy in the wake of Floyd Little’s death. Without the Hall-of-Famer here to speak for himself, we’ll unfortunately never know how he’d feel about Tucker specifically wearing 44. But keeping Little’s memory intact through the continued legacy of the number 44 — something he was a big part of at Syracuse — seems like natural move here.
Is it too soon for Tucker? Maybe. But I could think of at least one Orange running back who was given 44 when it might have seemed “too soon” and things seemed to work out pretty well for his career at Syracuse (talking about Ernie Davis, if you haven’t caught on by now).
Hopefully Dino, John Wildhack and the powers that be are in talks with the Council of 44 as we speak. It’s time to convert this myth into reality once again and let Tucker start a new legacy as the latest 44 at Syracuse.