Spirit of Tradition: Athletic Traditions and Mascots

An online exhibition from 1998 highlighting traditions that have shaped student life at Syracuse University.

Athletic Traditions

Number "44"

In professional sports, certain numbers evoke images of greatness. From Joe Montana's sweet #16 and Michael Jordan's #23 to Joe DiMaggio's 56 game hit streak and Roger Maris' 61 homeruns.

Syracuse #44 At the collegiate level, no number is more revered by fans than Syracuse's own number "44".

The legacy began in 1954 when equipment manager Al Zak tossed the jersey at an 18-year-old sophomore whose freshman year left much to be desired. That year he was SU's third leading rusher, but became their star as a junior. By his senior year, Jim Brown '57 was an All-American and topped SU's all-time rushing list. However, amazing rushes and dazzling plays were not the last things Brown did before becoming one of the greatest running backs in NFL history.

He helped to recruit the next brilliant star to wear "44".

Ernie Davis '62 is one of the most recognizable names in the history of Syracuse University football, and a proud wearer of the number "44." As a sophomore, the "Elmira Express" helped lead Syracuse University to its only national championship in football. In 1961 Davis became the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy. But tragedy struck in 1963. As Davis prepared to join the Cleveland Browns, and join Jim Brown in a backfield only Syracuse and Cleveland football fans would dream of, he died from leukemia before he would ever rush a yard in the NFL. Even in his death, Ernie Davis continued to win over SU football fans with his amazing acts.

He helped to recruit the next brilliant star to wear "44".

When Floyd Little heard of Davis' death, he called then SU coach Ben Schwartzwalder and told him he would like to come to SU and wear Davis' "44". Just as Davis surpassed Brown's record marks, so Little did of Davis. The three-time first-team All-American gave meaning to the number made famous by those before him.

With Brown, Davis, and Little, number "44" became magical. Those who would be next to wear the famed jersey, would have the enormous pressure of living up to their predecessors weighing on their shoulders before they ever suited up for a game. No other "44" has ever lived up to the standards set by these three amazing individuals.

On November 12, 2005 the number "44" was retired by SU and the oversize jersey now proudly hangs in the Carrier Dome.


Cheerleaders are the ultimate visual representation of school spirit. At one time, only males were permitted to participate.


Females were eventually allowed to cheer on the field for the women's seating section. Finally, when gender-segregated seating was abandoned after World War II, the squads were integrated. As time marched on, the cheerleading squad became dominated by female students.

Sweater worn by Cheerleader Edgar Workman '43 - donated by Flora Ablondi Workman '46

100 Men and a Girl — Dottie Grover '53

Dot Grover 10-0253
The following article appeared in the Syracuse Daily Orange on November 14, 1952:

Dottie - take a bow. Twirling a thing-a-ma-bob for four years in sub-zero weather is one thing, but to win every award in the book is impossible.

And when you step on the Archbold grass tomorrow, don't think it's your last. From now to eternity every Syracuse undergrad who has ever feasted his peepers upon your twirling figure will be seeing Dottie Grover at every halftime show, no matter who's twirling.

Sure there are a lot of guys, just like me, who'd trample down a Maxwell prof just to open those 20-ton doors for you.

And there are a few million or two more who'd give their fraternity button for an autographed picture of Syracuse's Miss Everything.

A rundown on your collegiate activities would scare Marilyn Monroe back to whence she came.

  1. National sweetheart of Sigma Chi.
  2. 1951 National Drum Majorette.
  3. Look Magazine cover girl.
  4. Old Forge Winter Carnival Queen.
  5. Miss Syracuse - 1952.
  6. Barnstorming Queen for the College All-stars. But to a few thousand Orange fans you're the drum majorette of the Syracuse University marching band -- the "girl" of that "100 Men and a Girl" combination.

Maybe it's your strut that brings fuzzy-faced frosh to their feet in awe. Could be your blonde hair that sparkles all over the stadium as two fire batons try their darndest to scorch its edge.

Some claim it's your smile.

I think it's just you.

Statistically you're no bigger than that bonnet you wear on cold autumn afternoons. When I try to count the number of revolutions your baton makes in a single routine I need a Philadelphia lawyer and 13 IBM machines.

Your bagful of twirling tricks is replete with mid-air twists, fire routines, double baton magic and that Grover extra-special-something that makes you indescribable.

How one girl can say "hi" to so many men and mean it defies the law of Noah Webster.

To tell you that you've made football at Syracuse synonymous with spectacle would be a half-truth. Multiply the 40,000 gasps of grid fans times 25 football games and you'll have a rough estimate of the appreciation and deep admiration that we all have for you.

Miss Dottie, if the Daily Orange were to give you a special orange as the personality of the day, the trucks would line highways from here to Orlando and back again with their cargos.

There isn't one of us who can say it right.

Just... we love you


Majorette Costume

*  Majorette costume worn by Dottie Grover at 1953 Orange Bowl - donated by Dorothy Grover Bolton '53.


The Saltine Warrior: Big Chief Bill Orange

Saltine Warrior The Saltine Warrior, an Indian figure named Big Chief Bill Orange, was born in a hoax published in The Syracuse Orange Peel, October 1931. The remains of this 16th century Onondagan chief were supposedly found in the excavations near Steele Hall, the relocation site for the women's gymnasium in 1928. In the mid-1950's, the father of a Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity brother owned a cheerleading camp. He made a Saltine Warrior costume for his son to wear at SU football games. Thus began a nearly forty-year tradition of Lambda Chi brothers serving as SU's mascot. In 1990 however the University opened up the mascot traditions to the entire student body. In 1978 members of a Native American student organization headed a protest against using the Saltine Warrior as an athletic mascot. Onondagan Chief Oren Lyons, a 1958 alumnus and former SU lacrosse star, explained that it's "all in the presentation...The thing that offended me when I was there was that guy running around like a nut. That's derogatory" (Daily Orange, March 23, 1976). The Saltine Warrior was subsequently "sidelined" and a contest for a successor ensued (Daily Orange, February 12, 1978). Saltine Warrior outfit worn by Brian Masters 1974-1976 - donated by Brian Masters '76

The Roman Gladiator

The Roman Gladiator 10-0105

In 1978 a new mascot appeared on the scene in response to displeasure with the Native American motif. Although the Indian apparel of the Saltine Warrior was retired, the name lived on but with a new form: a Roman warrior. However, this Saltine Warrior, with his shield, breastplate, sword, and plumed-helmet was not well-received by the majority of the student body. Consequently, in the early 1980's, Syracuse's Roman soldier was retired.

Otto the Orange

In the early 1980s it was time again to look for a new sports mascot. Several candidates were taken under consideration, including a penguin with an orange scarf, an orangutan, the Abominable Orangeman, the Orangeman, Egnaro the Troll, and an Orange. In the end, it was a warm, fuzzy, and lovable Orange (known by several names through the years) who won the day. Despite recent attempts to give him a facelift, Otto has remained the same and is here to stay.

Otto 10-0098

NOTE: Thanks to alumnus Mitch Messinger '92, G'93, former Otto the Orange, for the following information:

The mascot was known as "The Orange" until 1990 when the name Otto first came into use. The first Orange costume was dubbed "Clyde" by the Lambda Chi Alpha brothers, and the second called "Woody". In 1990 a third costume was being produced and needed a name. The cheerleaders were at Cheerleading Camp in Tennessee that summer and narrowed the field down to two potential names - Opie or Otto. Figuring the name Opie would lead to the inevitable rhyme with 'dopey', they settled on Otto. Later that fall word got out that the cheerleaders were calling the latest mascot costume, Otto and the name stuck.