Former Syracuse running back and New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin has a long history with the number 44.
In high school, he earned a nickname that would catapult him to a standout career with the Orangemen. Coughlin played at Syracuse from 1965-67, and finished his career with 347 yards and three touchdowns.
“A buddy decided my name should be Ernie,” Coughlin says in this week’s episode of Eli’s Places, which airs on Wednesday on ESPN+. “I wore 44 all throughout high school because of (Ernie Davis).”
Coughlin, who went on to be a two-time Super Bowl Champion as head coach of the New York Giants, met Eli Manning, to chat about his unique perspective as a Syracuse running back. Once he got to Syracuse, Coughlin played alongside another No. 44, Floyd Little, as well as another NFL Hall of Famer Larry Csonka.
Coughlin also takes a few minutes to show Manning, the quarterback of his two Super Bowl teams, some tape of the SU players who wore 44, comparing their running styles. He also offered more history about how the legendary number started with Jim Brown, who was the first No. 44 when he played at SU from 1954-56.
“Jim Brown asked for 33, but an upperclassmen had already claimed the number,” Coughlin says. “So he said, ‘Give me a double digit number,’ and they gave him 44.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
Manning keeps the interview light-hearted by throwing a few jabs at his former coach as they break down old film of Coughlin playing the position. Overall, it’s an enjoyable segment seeing an NFL great reminisce about his legendary Syracuse teammates, a perspective that I don’t think many SU fans have seen or heard before.
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They wrap it up concluding that—naturally—the number 44 is the greatest number in the history of college sports, and what Orange fan doesn’t already know that?
There are other famous numbers in college football, though, I guess.
Manning also stops in at the University of Southern California to learn about the linebackers that wore #55, and Notre Dame University and their history of quarterbacks wearing #3.
At USC, Manning meets up with Trojan great Willie McGinest as they discuss his history with the No. 55, being donned by All-Americans Junior Seau, Chris Claiborne, and Keith Rivers. McGinest has a genuine respect for the tradition the jersey represents and it shines through.
Manning—at his best as the affable interviewer—gets a few laughs out of McGinest in their talk. Manning gets a few more out of me as he dons full football pads and has Willie “train” him to live up to the number with some simple drills.
Let’s just say it’s a good thing he stuck to the quarterback position.
Up next, Manning makes his way to South Bend, Indiana to have a game of catch with former Fighting Irish quarterback Rick Mirer. Standing at midfield the two toss a football back and forth while discussing a former Notre Dame quarterback that wore number three who you may have heard of once or twice before—Joe Montana.
Living up to the legend of one of the top quarterbacks of all time could not have been easy, but Mirer explains he didn’t actually think about it too much. He says he was just excited to have the opportunity to play on that stage, and being such a humble guy you can see how he was able to ignore the pressure and have so much success.
The two remark how Mirer’s son Morrison plays lacrosse wearing No. 12, and Montana’s son played football at ND as well but chose to wear No. 16, which gives Manning a chance to crack about how sons just like to annoy their fathers—revealing that’s why he wore 10 at Ole Miss.
Episode three of Omaha Productions’ Eli’s Places premieres Wednesday on ESPN+ and it’s definitely worth a watch for any diehard Syracuse football fan.
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