Story of jersey numbers links Syracuse, DeLaSalle

I was looking at the movie The Express the other day. The film tells the story of Syracuse University running back ERNIE DAVIS. Davis was the first African American football player to win the Heisman Trophy in 1961. The Heisman is awarded to the top football player in the country.

However, after watching it, two scenes in the film had me thinking about a group of running backs who played high school football at a school in the Twin Cities. The high school I’m referring to is Minneapolis DeLaSalle. More on that later.

After winning the Heisman, Davis was drafted by the Cleveland Browns and was to be teamed with NFL running back JIM BROWN. Brown, considered the greatest NFL player of all time by many observers, was a Syracuse running back passed over for the Heisman in 1957.

He helped to recruit Davis, who had been thinking about Notre Dame, to sign with the Orangemen. Sadly, Davis never realized his dream of being in the NFL. He was stricken with leukemia and died in 1963.

Here are the scenes that prompted this comparison. Davis had come into the locker room to discover that he was given jersey number 44, worn by Brown during his tenure at Syracuse. When he indicated he didn’t want to wear it, head coach BEN SCHWARTZWALDER insisted. Davis reluctantly obliged.

In another scene, Davis takes a trip (just as Brown did to recruit Davis) with Schwarztwalder to New Haven, Connecticut to see a high school running back named FLOYD LITTLE. Davis eventually talks Little into attending Syracuse.

Little wore jersey number 44, earned All-American honors, and was inducted into the NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame after an eight-year career with the Denver Broncos (1967-75).
As I watched both scenes, I thought about REGGIE GANDY, the latest outstanding running back to wear a DeLaSalle uniform this decade. I looked up his dominating statistics of 42 touchdowns and 3,113 yards.

Then I thought about those that preceded him: EVAN WILLIAMS, now a freshman at the University of Wyoming; JEREMY RANDLE, a sophomore at Concordia University-St. Paul; and ALEXANDER ROBINSON, a senior at Iowa State University. Each dominated at the running back position during their prep careers at DeLaSalle, setting a standard that has stood since Robinson graduated in 2006.

Gandy was one of the best running backs the first time I saw him. That was when he was a freshman at Minneapolis Southwest, leading the Lakers to victory over conference South. After transferring to DeLaSalle following an outstanding sophomore season, Gandy picked up where he left off, teaming with All-State running back EVAN WILLIAMS (University of Wyoming) to lead the Islanders to the Class 3A state playoffs.

This past season he led them to the semifinals of the playoffs. He was clearly the most dominant force in football this past season. Just like his predecessors, he earned all-conference, all-metro and all-state honors. He was also named Associate Press Player of the Year.

One more side note to this analogy: I noticed last year that Williams wore number 28 during the 2009 season as Randle had during his outstanding 2007 campaign. Whether it was intentional or not, it made me think about number 44. It made me think of history.

Mitchell Palmer McDonald welcomes reader responses to