Long ago, Syracuse University was the hot spot for All-American running backs. Some of the best backs in NCAA history lived on the hill and played at Archibold Stadium under coaching greats like Ben Schwartzwalder. So I thought it would be good to look back at the five greatest of all-time on the eve of football season. Maybe we can muster up some of the magic these guys brought to the field so long ago.
5) James "Big Jim" Nance - Like so many others in Syracuse history, Jim Nance was good in more sports than just one. In 1963 and 1965, Nance was the NCAA heavyweight wrestling champion and an All-American. On the gridiron, Nance was just as good. He led the team in rushing in 1964. During that season, he scored in ten straight games and is highly regarded as one of the best backs in Syracuse history.
4) Larry Csonka - From 1965-1967, Csonka was one of the most feared backs in the nation. In just three seasons, he rushed for 2,934 yards, averaging about five yards a carry. During his final year, he was ranked fifth in the nation in rushing. He rushed for at least 100 yards 14 different times and currently holds a spot in the College Football Hall of Fame.
3) Floyd Little - In his three years on the field at Syracuse University, Little did what no other Syracuse player ever did. He was an All-American all three years he suited up. In his career he had 2,704 rushing yards and over 500 receiving yards. He rushed for 35 touchdowns, caught four passes for touchdowns, threw a touchdown pass and took four punt returns to the house. He could do it all.
2) Jim Brown - When thinking about SU football, Jim Brown is always one of the first names that comes to mind. In 1956, Brown averaged 6.2 yards per carry and set records for most touchdowns and most points in one game. The record breaking game was against Colgate when Brown scored six touchdowns and accounted for 43 points in a game SU won 61-7. In his three years on the field at SU, Brown rushed for over 2,000 yards and 24 touchdowns. He played on defense also, tallying eight interceptions in his three seasons. He is currently a member of both the Pro and College Football Halls of Fame.
1) Ernie Davis - This is one of the most iconic names in college sports history. Just hearing his name gives me chills. He has a statue on campus that overlooks the quad and the field inside the Carrier Dome is named in his memory. His nickname was "The Elmira Express" and was the first African-American football player to be awarded the Heisman Trophy. He rushed for 2,386 yards and scored 32 touchdowns in his three years at SU. He also led the team to its first and only National Championship in 1959. In that Cotton Bowl vs. Texas, Davis was named the Most Valuable Player. He was an All-American in both 1960 and 1961 and was eventually inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, Davis never got a chance to stretch his legs at the pro level. He died of leukemia on May 18, 1963 at the age of 23.
These men were an entirely different breed of player during an era of college football unlike any other. Syracuse was known for its incredible backfield and all the evidence is here to support that.
Do you think someone else should have made the list? Let us know by commenting or tweeting at us @OSliceSports