There has been a lot of chatter over the past few weeks about the grass roots efforts by Syracuse fans to “Restore 44” with the hope that a new AD may turn around what they view as the terrible decision to retire the famous jersey number.
Growing-up in Syracuse during the 80’s and 90’s, the son (and grandson) of die-hard Syracuse fans, I have a deep understanding and appreciation for what Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, and Floyd Little did for the football program, and in the case of Brown and Davis, what they did to advance Civil Rights in this country. I also vividly recall the excitement over the local radio programs when NY product, Rob Konrad, chose Syracuse over Notre Dame, in large part because of his ability to wear #44. I also remember when Konrad’s bar, (44’s) opened on Marshall Street and quickly became infamous for underage drinking and rowdy crowds. Not exactly the kind of thing you want to associate with the legendary #44.
So, I had no issues when Dr. Gross became the new Athletic Director at Syracuse and decided to honor the history and legacy of the jersey, and those who wore it, by retiring it in perpetuity. In fact, I applaud the decision because of how much more respect players have for the number, and the preservation of its iconic status.
I’ve been on record many, many times over at the various blogs and message boards saying that the idea to unretire #44 is a very dangerous one, especially since they see it as a recruiting gimmick to land one player in particular.
However I am very much on board with the idea re-popularized by Brent Axe to return the number to the playing field only if there is a player that is absolutely worthy of wearing it, that has earned the respect of the coaches, administration, community, and has transcended college football. These are incredibly high expectations and large shoes to fill, but that would only make it that much more meaningful if/when a day comes that a player can earn the right to wear the number.
I have nothing against Robert Washington, a high profile recruit that has Syracuse as one of his top schools, and appreciate that he holds the Syracuse’s football history in such high regards (courtesy of the movie the Express). I hope that he comes to Syracuse, I hope that he is the player we all expect him to be, and I hope that one day he’ll be able to earn the number 44. But with all due respect to those who want to use this jersey number as a recruiting gimmick, we’ve seen this act before and the idea of handing over what has become an iconic number to an untested and (as of yet) undeserving recruit/player seems like a disaster waiting to happen.
Imagine how the legacy of the #44 and those that wore it, could have been irreparably damaged if some of these former Syracuse athletes had worn the number 44: Continue reading