Saturday, December 6, 2008

Archbold Stadium and Number 44

Eleven-year-old Sherwood (in sporty sport coat at left) enters Syracuse University's Archbold Stadium to watch the Orangemen play the University of Pittsburgh Panthers on November 1, 1958.

Syracuse University's Archbold Stadium, now long gone, was built in the early 1900's, and was the template for the "bowl" oval stadia that dotted the big-time football map through most of the 20th century. Michigan's "Big House" probably represents the high point of that phenomenon, but other worthy successors abound: the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, the Orange Bowl in Miami, all have roots to some degree to old Archbold.

Halftime, November 1, 1958.

Syracuse beat the Pitt Panthers, 16-13, in this very good year leading up to the great year of 1959. In 1959, the Orangemen won their only national championship, and their great running back, Ernie Davis, won the Heisman trophy, an honor that had eluded his predecessor, Jim Brown.

Dad was a Syracuse alum, and took me to many games at old Archbold Stadium. In front of my eyes, I saw Jim Brown play for Ben Schwartzwalder, and Ernie Davis dance through defenders, and Gerhart Schwedes invent the tight end position, and Jim Ridlon ricochet through defensive lines, and many, many others invent on the fly, and fly high.

When we didn't drive the 65 miles from Norwich to Syracuse on fall Saturdays, I was plastered to the radio, listening to Bill O'Donnell anxiously count the game clock "tick - tick - ticking" down to the end of the game.

I spent my falls enthralled.

And I learned to revere the number 44. Jim Brown wore it, and his triumphant and tragic successor, Ernie Davis, did as well. College Hall of Famer [and in February 2010 NFL Hall of Famer] Floyd Little did so later, too. The number became so iconic that Syracuse University requested -- and was granted -- a new postal zip code, 13244.

Beyond Syracuse, Henry Aaron wore #44 when he broke a cherished white man's record in baseball, and Reggie Jackson wore it in Yankee Stadium as he was strutting his brashness along with his talent.

Archbold Stadium's field is where #44 came to mean something proud for black men, and signify achievement beyond not only expectation, but beyond bounds of provincial preconceptions or stagnant comfort levels.

Last month, we Americans elected our 44th President, a black man who, we all hope, will wear the number as well as those went before him did. I wonder if he knows what "Archbold Stadium" was, or what its heroes achieved. I won't be surprised if he does.


Adam said...
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Brian Fies said...

Nice essay and interesting observation. I'll have to mull that over a while . . .

Beats workin'.

Xtreme English said... being just a gurl, i don't know much about it other than what i learned through unavoidable viewership on weekends for some 40+ years. and it was fun going to the games in high school.

but you certainly cut a fine figure as an 11-year-old!

why do i think of you as canadian all the time? you ARE a yankee, non?

Sherwood Harrington said...

Mary Ellen asks: why do i think of you as canadian all the time?

Probably because I am handsome, debonair, fit, and polite in even the most trying circumstances.

ronnie said...

Sherwood, we'd take ya in a heartbeat and you'd fit in like a pea in a pod.

Anonymous said...
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