Syracuse University Magazine


Plaza 44 Honors Orange Legends

They are the three Syracuse Orange football legends known for making jersey No. 44 famous: Jim Brown ’57, perhaps the greatest ever collegiate athlete and pro football player; the late Ernie Davis ’62, the first African American Heisman Trophy winner who died tragically of leukemia at age 23; and Floyd Little ’67, three-time All-American and college and pro football hall of famer. “It’s been a significant number for me,” says Little, who scored five touchdowns the first time he donned 44 at Archbold Stadium and wore it throughout his NFL career with the Denver Broncos. “And, of course, it’s my favorite number.”

Jeff Rubin ’95, G’98, a professor of practice in the School of Information Studies and founder and president of SIDEARM Sports, knows their stories well and wanted to honor their legacies in a special way. Like many Syracuse students, he arrived on the Hill with scant knowledge of their gridiron exploits, but became a huge Orange sports fan and embraced the Legend of 44. “It’s important to know where we came from and what got us here,” Rubin says. “I believe 44 is the most important historic number in college athletics, but we didn’t have a place at this University where you could go and learn about these three.”

That changed last November when, after a couple years of planning, Rubin and his family—wife Jennifer G’02, and sons Nathan, 10, and Benjamin, 8—shared their larger-than-life tribute to the fabled running backs with the University community: Three nine-foot bronze statues, positioned on three-foot granite bases featuring relief panels that tell the players’ stories. “Isn’t that something?” says Little, now special assistant to the athletics director at SU. “Think about this—to have a statue of yourself while you’re still alive. Not a lot of people get statues of themselves, and I have the opportunity to walk by mine every day.”

The statues were unveiled at a special public ceremony and grace what’s now known as Plaza 44, an open space just west of the Ensley Athletic Center, which was dedicated that day as well. The three are joined by a fourth statue that stands near the entrance to the Ensley Center—one of another Orange legend, Ben Schwartzwalder, who coached all three players and led Syracuse to the 1959 national title. He also coached Trustee Cliff Ensley ’69, ’70, G’71, who joined with a group of former Orange football players and supporters to get the Schwartzwalder statue made. “Coach Schwartzwalder looks like he’s keeping an eye on his players,” says sculptor Brian Hanlon, who created the four statues.

The ceremony was attended by the Brown and Little families and members of Davis’s family as well. “There was nothing more special than looking into their eyes at the unveiling,” Rubin says. “Those are moments I won’t forget. It was equally special to me on that day to have the kids be a part of the celebration.” For Little, it was a memorable day as well. “I can’t thank Jeff and Jennifer enough,” he says. “It was a really special day and it still is. When I see the picture I took with my camera of my wife [DeBorah ’14], my three kids, and my statue, it’s like, wow, this is real.”

For Rubin, the statues also represent a bond with Syracuse that has only grown stronger through the years. A Massachusetts native and School of Information Studies graduate, he combined his passion for technology and sports just as the Internet was taking off commercially. In 1996, the young entrepreneur launched a web design business that evolved into SIDEARM Sports, a campus-based company whose software and technology power websites, live stats, and video streaming for nearly 850 university, college, and high school sports teams across North America. For the past two decades, he also has taught at the iSchool and maintained a presence with SU Athletics, assisting with game-day stats and serving on the department’s external affairs committee. In 2000, SU became SIDEARM’s first college sports client, and it was through an i-School class that he had DeBorah Little as a student and later met Floyd Little, striking up a friendship through their mutual love of sports. “I wanted to give something back that combined my passion for Syracuse sports, my love for the history of this University, and, at the same time, honor our family’s close friendship with Floyd and DeBorah,” Rubin says. “I also wanted to show our two boys the importance of philanthropy and giving back.”

Rubin credits sculptor Hanlon for coining the “Plaza 44” name. Like Rubin, Hanlon, whose studio is in Toms River, New Jersey, is a huge sports fan. The official sculptor for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Hanlon had visited the Orange Basketball Hall of Fame in the Melo Center, and had become familiar with the Legend of 44. When Rubin met up with Hanlon a few years ago at an NCAA trade-show convention, where Hanlon had a statue of NBA star Shaquille O’Neal on display—the vision of the statues began to take shape. “When he walked over to me and I found out he bled Orange, I was all in,” Hanlon says. “I love the history there.”

More than anything, the pair wanted to ensure the statues authentically captured the three athletes. They relentlessly combed through archival images and worked with SU Athletics administrators to get the look for the statues they wanted. While the statues pose as an enticing lure for recruits on their campus visits, Rubin sees them as much more. Sitting in his Hinds Hall office—which is awash in Orange mementos and other sports memorabilia, including a prominently displayed collection of football cards of Little from his days as a Denver Bronco—Rubin happily reports he’s received emails and thank yous about Plaza 44 from fans and enjoys seeing pictures of fans posing with the statues and posting them on social media. “That’s pretty cool,” he says. “I hope every SU student, every visitor who comes through, every fan, goes to visit the statues and takes a look at these larger-than-life guys. I hope it’s a place where people can gather and meet, and show their respect to these three legends.”   —Jay Cox

Photo by Steve Sartori


Plaza 44 (above) features statues of Jim Brown '57, Ernie Davis '62, and Floyd Little '62, while a statue of Coach Ben Schwartzwalder stands at the entrance to the Ensley Athletic Center. Little (left) fields questions from the media at the unveiling ceremony last November.

Photo courtesy of Brian Hanlon