There may not be a more storied number in collegiate history than the orange No. 44 worn by all-time greats Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, and Floyd Little. That’s why Syracuse retired the number in 2005 and why it’s shocking to see it unretired this season. Since it’s retirement, the Syracuse Orange have made only three bowl appearances and suffered a 3-9 losing record last season. Retiring the number didn’t have control over Orange’s success, but it does provide a benchmark to see it’s time for change.
Donovan McNabb has been a strong opponent against the program’s announcement to take No. 44 down from the rafters and back to the field. His argument is heartfelt, wanting to respect those who wore it with pride and integrity while lifting the university to prominence in the 50s and 60s as well as the eight other players to wear 44. For a team that’s struggling to find it’s place in college football, there is a need to remember the past. But allowing a player to don the number again is just as much paying ode as it is forward thinking.
No one can take away the significance of the number. That will forever be instilled in football lore. Jim Brown will forever be remembered as one of the greatest to ever step on the field, and some would suggest Ernie Davis was even better, followed by a storied back in his own right, Floyd Little. The ten years it was barred from being worn, which was enough to cement it’s place in history and it’s time to create more memories.
Syracuse senior vice president for public affairs Kevin Quinn has assured fans via email to Syracuse.com the number will only be worn in “special circumstances” and for an “extraordinary” player. Reading between the lines, Quinn is saying the program is ready (needs) their next Jim Brown, and allowing a recruit have a chance to become the fourth great double-four is something special.
Since 2005, the Orange have had a great struggle recruiting running backs, landing eight 3-star RBs according to ESPN. They have 4-star ESPN Top 300 Robert Washington committed at the moment, their brightest light at the position in years. That’s not to say he will be given the sacred jersey. Four-stars is a great recruit, but not an extraordinary player as Quinn is calling for — sights are on top prospects. Bringing over a top ranked player won’t be as easy as giving him a number. That’s for certain, but it’s a start.
Rob Konrad (who is in favor of its reinstatement) was the last player to pull the double-fours over his shoulder pads, and, while a good player, he was no Hall of Fame caliber player and neither were the seven others. The success rate of greats wearing it is around 25 percent depending on your metric. This number is not a superstition, but a tradition of striving towards excellence. Bringing back No. 44 may seem very small, but it could jump start what once was, the honor to be a Syracuse Orange.