150 Years of Tradition at Syracuse University: a digital exhibition

The Legacy of 44

At Syracuse University, 44 is a sacred number. Since 1954, a total of 11 Syracuse University athletes have worn it. The three most famous — Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, and Floyd Little — earned All-American awards and rank among Syracuse’s finest players. The legendary 44 holds meaning not just for athletics but the University community as a whole. It has become so iconic, the University’s telephone numbers all begin with “44” and its zip code ends with “44.” On November 12, 2005, Syracuse University officially retired the number for athletic use.

The legacy of 44 began with Jim Brown ’57, who wore the jersey starting in his sophomore year in 1954. By his senior year, Brown was an All-American and topped Syracuse’s all-time rushing list. He went on to become one of the greatest running backs in NFL history.

Ernie Davis ’62 helped lead Syracuse University’s football team to its only national championship in 1960. A year later he became the first African American and Orangeman to win the Heisman Trophy. Tragically, Davis died from leukemia in 1963, just as he was preparing for a professional career with the Cleveland Browns.

When Floyd Little ‘67 heard of Ernie Davis’ death, he called football coach Ben Schwartzwalder to tell him he wanted to play football at Syracuse. Just as Davis surpassed Brown’s record marks, so Little did of Davis’. As a three-time first-team All-American, Little gave added meaning to the number made famous by those before him.

Photograph of Ernie Davis, circa 1959-1962. Syracuse University Portrait Collection, University Archives.

Ernie Davis’ number 44 jersey, circa 1959-1962. Ernie Davis Collection, University Archives.

Plaque from the United States Postal Service commemorating Syracuse University’s new 13244 zip code, 1985. Ben Schwartzwalder Papers, University Archives. Gift of Reggie Schwartzwalder.

Photograph of the retirement of the number 44 at the Carrier Dome, November 12, 2005. Syracuse University Photo & Imaging Collection, University Archives. Photograph by Stephen Sartori.

In the photograph are [left to right] Tom Stephens ‘59, Chancellor Nancy Cantor, Bill Schoonover ‘65, Jim Brown ‘57, Floyd Little ‘67, Marie Fleming (Ernie Davis’ mother), Rob Konrad ‘02, Michael Owens, and Athletic Director Daryl Gross. Stephens, Schoonover, Brown, Little, Konrad, and Owens all wore the number 44.