SYRACUSE, N.Y. (SYRACUSE ATHLETICS) –
When you list the best running backs in football history, a trio of Syracuse backs will come up in short order.
Jim Brown, Ernie Davis and Floyd Little – who combined to make 44 at Syracuse college football’s most iconic number – were some of the best players on the field and left an indelible mark on the sport and Syracuse University. They were three of the five members of Syracuse Athletics’ initial Ring of Honor class, which was established in 2020. However, due to the impact of the pandemic, the unveiling ceremony had to be postponed.
Now, Orange fans will finally have their opportunity to celebrate these three outstanding athletes on Oct. 15 when Syracuse hosts NC State. Family representatives from all three will be on hand in the JMA Wireless Dome for a special halftime ceremony to officially enshrine Brown, Davis and Little into the Ring of Honor.
“We are thrilled to finally have the opportunity to celebrate these three Syracuse legends for their induction into the Ring of Honor,” said Director of Athletics John Wildhack. “Jim Brown, Ernie Davis and Floyd Little were trailblazers at Syracuse University, establishing the legend of 44. We are excited to celebrate this distinguished honor with members of the Brown, Davis and Little families.”
The Ring of Honor is an honor bestowed upon individuals named as one of Syracuse University’s most outstanding student-athletes or coaches to compete and/or coach their associated collegiate sport. This honor enshrines an honoree within the JMA Wireless Dome by permanently displaying an honoree’s name on the inner most facade of the stadium. In addition to Brown, Little and Davis, basketball legends Jim Boeheim and Pearl Washington were part of the five-person inaugural class. Roy Simmons Jr., the six-time national champion lacrosse coach, became the sixth person enshrined this past spring.
A native of Manhasset, N.Y., Brown played three seasons (1954-56) for the Orange. “The Greatest of All Time” rushed for 2,091 yards and 23 touchdowns during his career and was voted the first unanimous All-American in team history as a senior in 1956.
Brown, who finished fifth in the 1956 Heisman Trophy balloting, averaged 123.3 rushing yards per game (986 in eight games) and led the nation with 13 rushing touchdowns to propel Syracuse to the Cotton Bowl. In 1955, he led the NCAA in kickoff return average (32.0). He also excelled on defense, logging eight career interceptions.
Brown was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1995. In 2020, ESPN named Brown No. 1 on its list of the 150 greatest players from the first 150 years of college football.
Davis, known as “the Elmira Express,” became the first African-American and the only SU player to win the Heisman Trophy. Davis played a key role in SU’s drive to its only football national championship — and he was only a sophomore at the time.
Davis set eight SU career, season and single-game football records, including most net rushing yards (2,386), touchdowns (35) and points scored (220) in three years. He is currently 13th on Syracuse’s career rushing yards record list with 2,386 yards. A unanimous selection for his second All-America honor, Davis was then honored as the 1961 Heisman Trophy winner, becoming the first black athlete to capture the coveted award. After being the first pick in the 1962 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns, Davis was diagnosed with leukemia a short time later and passed away at age 23 before getting the chance to play a game in the NFL.
A three-time All-American for the Orange from 1964-66, Little rushed for 2,704 yards and scored 46 touchdowns. He was also a standout return man who led the nation in all-purpose yards (1,990) and punt return average (23.5) as a junior in 1965. He still holds the Syracuse career record with six punt returns for touchdowns. The 1966 ECAC Player of the Year, Little finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting twice.
Following his college career, Little was selected by the Denver Broncos with the No. 6 pick in the 1967 NFL Draft. In nine seasons (1967-75) with the Broncos, he amassed more than 12,000 all-purpose yards and was a five-time Pro Bowl selection. Little ranked seventh on the NFL’s career rushing list (6,323 yards) at the time of his retirement and was a charter member of the Broncos Ring of Fame in 1984. Little was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010. His induction into the Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame in 2019 marked the 11th hall of fame to recognize Little.
In 2011, Little returned to his alma mater to serve as special assistant to the director of athletics, a position he held until 2016. Born on July 4, 1942 in New Haven, Connecticut, Little passed away on Jan. 1, 2021.