In 2005, the Syracuse athletic department decided to retire the number 44 and ignore a tradition many in the Syracuse football fanbase, like me, proudly enjoyed. The administration at that time seemed determined to change the culture around the program after firing Head Coach Paul Pasqualoni and wanting to make the Orange the “USC of the east coast.”
They tried to convince people that this was beyond overdue and had pomp and circumstances that surrounded it. The thing about trying to change is if you don’t know the culture, you’re setting yourself up to disappoint those who love it, and that includes me. Let me explain.
When I was a young boy growing up in Bridgeport, NY, I was big into sports. We couldn’t afford to go much to see it live so it was an enjoyable experience if we could watch it on TV. When I did get to watch Syracuse football, one major factor that made me the fan I am today was the legend and folklore of those who wore 44 and seeing if someone was wearing it.
If they wore 44, I was especially rooting for them and expecting them to have a good season. I never expected anyone to be the next Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, or Floyd Little but simply I found my new “favorite player.”
The number 44 at Syracuse football has a special place in my heart.
When the number was retired in 2005, I admit part of me took it as a slap in the face of a tradition I love and lack of understanding as to why it meant so much to me and others. It made us comply with how other programs celebrated their greats and ignored the one that signified Mr. Brown handing it off to Mr. Davis who then handed it off to Mr. Little and made watching games less exciting to me.
I legitimately wondered if maybe it was time I retired my love for the program if this was the direction they planned to take. To some that may seem extreme but to me, after finding joy for decades seeing who’s going to wear it next, I at times felt myself just becoming a casual fan at best.
Fast forward through the years and we heard that the number might be restored under special circumstances if those who wore it okayed it. I was a bit excited but also hesitant feeling like maybe “special circumstances” may never come about.
Cue Sean Tucker!
Sean Tucker to me is a special young man. He’s a guy who is exciting to watch and is already breaking records and approaching others. I knew watching him last year that he had the potential to be special, wrote a piece about him wearing 44 before the season even started, and have watched as many others saw what I saw and began clamoring for this to happen should he wish to wear it.
I’ve heard from some that he still needs to do more to earn it. I’ve heard from some that this 44 talk is unnecessary. To me, this call to have Sean wear the jersey is a great idea for two reasons: in my opinion, he’s earned it and also it’s time to bring back our tradition. Sean Tucker is the perfect ambassador to restore the tradition that I and many others miss.
Sadly, Mr. Little has passed away and he can’t chime in but he has stated in the past that he would like to see it returned to the field one day. I’d love to respect his wishes and the wishes of fans like me who miss it and feel passionately about it. Mr. Little was one of our greatest ambassadors for the program and I think it’s also a great way to honor his memory as well.
And I can’t pretend to know what he would think if he saw Sean Tucker playing but I would be willing to bet he’d be impressed by his work, his work ethic, and his productivity enough that he’d actually at least consider it.
So when you hear me talking about giving Sean Tucker 44, know this isn’t me just idly starting a conversation…it’s me wanting to restore a tradition I miss and believing that he’s the perfect player to restore that tradition into the current environment. I’m simply remembering the young Orange fan I was being raised on a tradition that I grew to love and when worn, sparked conversations about those who wore it proudly.
I love Syracuse football and without the traditions surrounding 44, I’d likely have just been some fair-weather fan who only cared when they won and not the passionate fan I am today who loved a tradition we called our own and hope to see return one day soon.