Syracuse University Pulls a “Favre” and Unretires Number 44

New Syracuse Athletic Director, Pete Sala, has decided to unretire the number 44 made famous by legendary Syracuse running backs Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, and Floyd Little. The number was retired by previous Athletic Director Daryl Gross on Nov. 12, 2005 and currently hangs from the rafters inside the Carrier Dome.syracuse-44

The decision to unretire number 44 came at a groundbreaking ceremony for Plaza 44, which will be constructed outside of Syracuse’s new indoor practice facility. The plaza will honor Brown, Davis, and Little with statues that stand 9-feet tall.

When they retired the number 44, Gross and Brown felt it would be tough to pinpoint a player who is worthy of wearing number 44. If 44 wasn’t going to be retired, then no number ever would since that was the most recognized number in not only Syracuse football history, but was also recognized by the college football world.

The number 44 was last worn by running back Rob Konrad who went on to an NFL career with the Miami Doplhins. Ironically, Konrad’s greatest feat was not his accomplishments at Syracuse or in the NFL, but a 16 hour survival in the ocean in January after he was fishing and flipped out of his boat after a wave hit. The boat was on auto pilot and kept going forcing Konrad to try to survive. He swam 27 miles to Palm Beach before ringing the doorbell of an oceanfront home at 4:30 in the morning.

There have been many other players through the years who wore the number 44, but never lived up to the extreme expectations of wearing such a number. In the late 80’s, a running back from Pennsylvania wore the number 44. Michael Owens had a mediocre career at Syracuse that was surpassed by his brother Billy who was an All-American basketball player at Syracuse before leaving for the NBA after his junior season.

The decision to unretired number 44 does not sit well with many people including former Syracuse quarterback Donovan McNabb who is a member of the school’s board of trustees. McNabb feels it is disrespectful to those players who have worn it at Syracuse.

McNabb goes on to state the following.

“What message are we sending across college football and to the football world that it’s ok to un retire such history that was so strong?”

After hearing how his decision to unretired number 44 has angered many fans and alumni, Sala shared the following.

“A small committee, composed of at least four or five members, will deliberate before the number is awarded to a player.”

Little will be among the small committee of individuals who will view players before awarding them the legendary 44. He is not worried about finding future players.

Said Little:

“I think that person always reveals himself. You find a person who’s a great athlete, student-athlete, a great community worker and a good person.”

Little is currently a special assistant to Sala and has a selfish reason he wants the number retired. He wants his grandson to wear the number that has already been promised to him in eight years. First off, Little should receive no special treatment with the number 44 since Brown and Davis also made that number special. If the number were retired solely on the accomplishments of Little, then I could understand him allowing the number to be unretired. Secondly, how do we know Little’s grandson will be good enough to earn a scholarship to Syracuse if he is currently only ten years old. He may be dominating his competition now, but opponents will grow into their bodies by high school making him just an ordinary player.

According to reports, Brown also gave his blessing to unretired number 44. Unfortunately, Davis is not alive to comment as he died of leukemia at the age of 23 a year after winning the Heisman Trophy as college football’s top player.

I do not support the school’s decision to unretired number 44. It puts unfair pressure on future players deemed worthy of donning the 44 jersey. Head football coach Scott Schaffer and Sala may believe making the number 44 available again could bring in top recruits looking to make the same impact as Brown, Davis, or Little. I agree with McNabb in that it shows disrespect to the three players who were the reason the number was retired in the first place. History is a big part of athletics and the number should remain retired at Syracuse.

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