Retiring The Legendary “44”

In the 1950’s and early 1960s the wonderful essence of college football’s “golden era” was perhaps best embodied on the historic campus of Syracuse University.  They produced great teams and legendary players who performed in the ultimate college football setting. 

The campus was established on a stunning hilltop setting and surrounded by buildings of knowledge that reflected brilliant early European architecture. Throughout the week, almost like a religious pilgrimage, the students would march up the hill to learn axioms and lessons that would serve them well on their path through life. On Saturdays, as Autumn’s crisp golden red leaves threatened to fall, these privileged young learners would take a similar journey but for a far more enjoyable purpose. On those glorious Saturdays Archbold Stadium was their Mecca. The all cement structure stood proud like the ancient Roman Coliseum in the center of campus. Rather than absorbing intelligence as was required during the week, it was the student’s “duty” to impart it, in unison, upon the gladiators below. The weekly fate of these warriors, for reasons that could never be logically explained, reflected the school's national prominence more than any other factor. And the victories returned by the Saltine Warriors from Syracuse made this university a very special place during the “golden” era of college football.


This past weekend Syracuse honored their glorious past by retiring the legendary football jersey number “44” which is arguably the most storied jersey in the history of college football. Helmet Hut was honored to be invited to the event and to be able to provide authentic reproductions of helmets to these former number “44” heroes including Jim Brown, Floyd Little and the family of Ernie Davis. Jim Brown spoke eloquently at the Friday night reception. It was somewhat of a paradox to experience Jim Brown’s speech on Friday which was held at the team’s new multimillion dollar weightlifting center. Jim Brown had natural strength and never had to lift weights or “manufacture” his power. His training consisted of just playing the game. Helmet Hut retrieved the actual Syracuse helmet worn by Jim Brown from its current display at the College Football Hall of Fame for showing at this event. It was priceless to experience Mr. Brown’s reaction to being reunited with his old helmet after almost 50 years. Needless to say, Jim Brown is not the type of man that gets intimidated by anything, including surprises, and he intently stared at his old protective friend as to almost expect the helmet to acknowledge him first before he would reminisce about it. He certainly enjoyed this special reunion with his old companion which has aged almost as gracefully as he has. At the Saturday half time ceremony Jim promptly handed the speaking duties over to the ever exuberant Floyd Little who became so fired up that he should have been allowed to suit up for the second half.


The University no longer refers to its teams as Saltine Warriors due to sensitivity issues related to the original local Saltine Indian tribes. A few years after adopting a new, seemingly innocuous, nickname “The Orangemen” it was determined that it may also be considered offensive to someone so now it is simply the Syracuse University Orange. The team now plays in the immaculate and weather proof Carrier Dome but few players or spectators would have complained about the discomforts of the old open air Archbold Stadium on this beautiful “Indian Summer” Saturday – or perhaps we should say unusually warm November afternoon to be politically correct. It was pleasing to find that the original row of character rich, campus food and souvenirs shops such as “The Varsity,” “Cosmos” (or “The Greeks”) and Manny’s still exist on the fabled “M” street at the base of the hill. Most of these independent family owned shops have been there since the 1930s and have become a tradition at the school. It was a bit unsettling to find that a “Starbucks” has placed an outlet on this special street but we understand progress – we think.



The retirement of the legendary number “44” at Syracuse University was a special and long overdue event. In the words of Jim Brown it was a “most humbling experience.” We further applaud the schools efforts to restore their past greatness. We only caution that as some longstanding methods, customs and institutions are replaced by modern alternatives that the very character and spirit that provided the foundation for the school’s original greatness is not also discarded. We are confident that Mr. Brown, with all his wisdom, would surely agree.

If interested in any of these Syracuse helmets please click on the photos below.