Orange You Glad: Famous 44’s that (thankfully) never were
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:
Alverin Collier was a highly recruited local product (Rochester, NY) that spurned much bigger schools to play for Syracuse. Collier never lived up to expectations however and was ultimately kicked off the team after being arrested in possession of large quantities of drugs and paraphernalia.
Delone Carter. The former “Ohio Mr. Football” was a fan favorite, and was thisclose to being the type of player that the team & administration could have proudly given the #44, until he one-punched a fellow student, causing severe facial injuries and was suspended from the team. Carter, because of his otherwise stellar reputation, was allowed back onto the team and had a fantastic final season en route to winning the MVP of the Pinstripe Bowl and being drafted by the Colts – but it goes to show that all it takes is one terrible decision or youthful indiscretion, to jeopardize your entire career and the reputation of the University.
Malcolm Cater: This is a very intriguing case because during the recruitment process, Cater had verballed to Syracuse, but the NJ native was being heavily recruited by in-conference rival, Rutgers. During the tense days leading up to National Signing Day, there were many in the blogosphere and on internet message boards suggesting that Cater should be offered the number 44 as a way to solidify his commitment. Fortunately, Syracuse did not, as Cater would ultimately be dismissed from the team for burglarizing his teammate’s apartment and serve time in prison.
- Marquis Spruill: Like Delone Carter, Marquis Spruill had a fantastic career at Syracuse that was almost derailed because of one eventful night. Although better known for anchoring a very physical and dominant linebacker corps, Spruill was arrested at an off-campus party along with…
- Steve Rene: the speedy special teams player was arrested with Spruill for an altercation with a police officer and resisting arrest at an off-campus party
- Ishaq Williams: Although he played for Notre Dame, as a recruit the NY product had Syracuse in his top-3 and would have been a huge get to prove that Syracuse could compete with the “Big Boys”. This past season, Williams was dismissed from Notre Dame for academic fraud, which considering Syracuse’s troubles with the NCAA could have dealt a major blow to the football program if it had happened here.
- Jim Brown: The original #44, Jim Brown’s career has long been dogged by accusations of physically abusing women, including a charge in 1968 when he allegedly threw model, Eva Bohn-Chin, off the 2nd floor balcony of his home.
It’s not just football players, either. Derrick Coleman and John Wallace helped to elevate the legend of #44 as part of their teams’ runs to the NCAA finals. Now consider the potential damage to the Legacy if some of these players were part of the 44’s:
Fab Melo: The primary subject of the recent NCAA investigation and smack-down against the Orange Basketball program. Fab Melo was a highly-touted recruit from Brazil who had a break-out season his 2nd year, but was ultimately suspended twice, including missing the entire NCAA tournament, for academic fraud. This was on top of his own troubles with the law, including assaulting his girlfriend and destruction of personal property.
Eric Devendorf: His swagger on the court made Devendorf a very divisive player, for both fans and rivals. Devendorf had a great career at Syracuse, best known for three things: 1) hitting a buzzer beating 2-point shot that sent the Syracuse-UConn game into the 1st of 6 overtime periods, 2) smelling deuces, and 3) open-hand punching a female student.
Jackson Jardine: Where to begin? Scoop was another player that was dogged by most fans during his career at Syracuse, but wound up being beloved by his 5th year; but things didn’t start out too well between unsubstantiated rumors of point shaving, his famous cheesesteak/student ID fiasco, and his involvement in an alleged sexual assault (with teammates Rick Jackson and Jonny Flynn).
“IT AIN’T DISRESPECTING THE LEGENDS BEFORE YOU WHEN YOU QUIT THE TEAM AFTER BEING SUSPENDED FOR GETTING IN A CAR ACCIDENT WHILE DRIVING HOME FROM A CASINO. REMEMBER THAT!”