Why Retire #44 Now?

Coming up with column ideas about a team that is going to be 1-10 is not easy. I was sitting around thinking about it all weekend, and couldn't come up with anything. I could have written the "this is the worst Syracuse football team ever" column, but that's like arguing that Michael Jackson is a little weird. It's kind of a given.

I could have written a "my favorite moments from the season" column, but there's still two weeks left. I need that one for later. I was even contemplating writing a "ten things more painful than watching Syracuse play offense" column, but I ran out after number six, which was watching that Miracle of Life video where you see a woman give birth. Forget a scary movie, if you really want to freak out, sit down and watch that mess from start to finish. I digress.


Heck, I even asked my editor if he had any ideas for a column, and he said, "Fake your own death before the Notre Dame game."


I can't do that though, I still have basketball season to look forward to. So upon further review, I've decided to tackle a question no one else around here seems to want to talk about:


Should Syracuse have retired #44?




OK column over, see you guys next week… What? You want reasons too? Man, you're demanding. All right, here you go:


First off, watching that ceremony on Saturday was bittersweet. It had its goose bumps moments, like the highlights of Davis, Brown, and Little. It was also cool to see all the old ‘Cuse players there for the occasion.


Then I took a closer look, and I could tell the old players could barely stand it. I saw them asking themselves how their team could have slipped so far. And, I think fans shared that feeling too. I did. So the ceremony was great, but it was tainted by the team on the field.


The ceremony also had its share of unintentionally comedic moments like Jim Brown wearing a jogging suit and having a "when can I get out of here and do another movie or Spike Lee documentary" look on his face. Watching Rob Konrad run was entertaining as well, but my personal favorite was Floyd Little messing up Syracuse's "Respect the Past, Represent the Future" slogan. I may be the only person in the building who actually caught that.


Well, that slogan isn't the only thing that was messed up Saturday. Syracuse screwed up one of its best recruiting tools when #44 was hung from the rafters.


If you were a stud recruit, why would you want to go to Syracuse at this point? With the exception of believing in the direction Greg Robinson is taking the program, there isn't much.


Before, if you were from anywhere within 500 miles of Syracuse and are told by recruiters you could be the savior of Syracuse football. They believe in you so much, you are going to wear #44 if you come to the ‘Cuse. Wouldn't that persuade you? At the very least, it would make a difference if you were choosing between Syracuse and another school. Orange coaches can never say that to another recruit.


On that same token, the fun is ruined for fans too. I remember when I heard Rob Konrad was going to be wearing the number. My father and I were excited. If this kid was going to get the honor of wearing #44, he must be something special we thought, and he was. We can't do that anymore. It takes some more wind out of the sails for fans. Not something the program needs considering the recent season ticket sales numbers.


From a financial point of view, the whole thing didn't make much sense to me. One of the reason's Syracuse retired the number was to get great attendance for the day of the ceremony, which it did. You never would have gotten over 40,000 for that game otherwise. But, #44 will never be the reason fans come to watch Syracuse again. They won't go out and buy season tickets because a stud recruit is going to be wearing the number anymore. Now, it's just a jersey on the wall, instead of a reason to be excited about the upcoming season.


That's the whole problem with retiring #44. You are making something that is an active legend, stagnant. Something that is alive, dead. When you retire a jersey it's usually because of a certain player, such as the Chicago Bulls retiring #23 for Jordan. I'm fine with that. Here it's different. Three players established this number, making it an honor for an incoming recruit to wear. You aren't retiring a player when you retire #44, you are killing a tradition.


My greatest Syracuse football fear is this: I will bring my future son to watch a Syracuse football game. We will be sitting there enjoying the game (hopefully the offense will be fixed by then). Then he will look over to the corner in the upper deck and ask me, "What's 44 Dad?"


I'll tell him a little bit about it. About how Jim Brown is the best running back to ever play the game, and how Ernie Davis was the first African-American to win the Heisman, and about Michael Owens two-point conversion against West Virginia. Then I will tell him I knew all that because the number was passed on. I'll tell him how I had the chance to root for some of the newer 44's like Terry Richardson and Rob Konrad. How I was able to root for my own football heroes who donned the legendary number on their back. Then he will say, "OK, Dad" and we'll continue watching the game.


One day, when it will probably be easier for me to learn Japanese than use the bathroom, my son will take his son to the game, and his son will look up at the corner in the upper deck and ask, "What's 44 Dad?" And, my son will say, "Oh, it's some number that was famous a long time ago."


You tell me how that respects the past?

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