Largent shares details of decision to let Rice wear No. 80

Getty Images

Monday’s Pro Football Talk on NBCSN looked at the best players to ever wear No. 80. For two guys who have had their No. 80 jerseys retired by the teams with which they made their biggest impacts, one of them wore the other guy’s number.

It happened when Jerry Rice joined the Seahawks in 2004, appearing in 11 games. He wore No. 80, even though the number had been retired for Steve Largent.

So how did the number become unretired?

“The Seahawks at the time had a President of the team [Bob Whitsitt] who had come from the NBA and didn’t really know a lot about football but knew a lot about professional sports and he called me saying that Jerry [Rice] wanted to wear number 80 but wanted to ask my permission,” Laregent said. “And so I mean Jerry Rice is asking to wear my number, I’m not going to say no and so I said, ‘Sure, that’s fine with me.’ What [Whitsitt] did was he called Jerry Rice and said, ‘Hey, Steve Largent wants you to wear his jersey when you get to Seattle.’ So Jerry said, ‘Well that’s fine, I’ll wear number 80, I thought it was retired but if Steve wants me to wear it, I’ll wear it.’

“So [Whitsitt] did a little double whammy on both Jerry and myself to ensure that Jerry Rice gets number 80 and [Whitsitt] can sell a bunch of number 80 jerseys or something but it was kind of a scam on both myself and Jerry Rice.”

Rice caught plenty of flak at the time for wearing the jersey that had been retired for Largent, similar to the flak Peyton Manning caught in some circles (like this one) for wearing No. 18 after it had been retired for Frank Tripucka. If a number is retired, it’s retired. It never should be unretired — and the person for whom it was retired never should be put on the spot about unretiring the number.

44 responses to “Largent shares details of decision to let Rice wear No. 80

  1. I’m one of the biggest Manning supports you’ll find, but asking to wear a retired number is pretty tacky. I guess Peyton won’t mind if someone decides to wear 18 in Indy.

  2. I don’t think it’s so bad that a retired number is worn by a couple of all time great players who switched teams as long as the original owner is the one who prompts using the number. Largent being tricked into giving his OK doesn’t sit well with me, but it I also think it would have been odd to see the GOAT wearing number 86.

  3. Not a lot of people know that there was bad blood between Rice and the 49ers front office and that when he retired he returned to Oakland and retired as a Raider.

  4. I guess the moral of this story is that both Largent & Rice had enough class and respect for each other to defer to the other (while being unaware the process was being manipulated), and Whitsitt had neither class nor respect.

  5. Maybe I’m just newer in my thinking, but if like to see some old numbers unretired so that newer players can have their numbers honored the same way. For example, as a Bears fanatic, I have nothing but respect for Dick Butkus. However, is 35 years long enough? Let’s unretire his number so that Singletary’s can have a turn, or Urlacher. Some teams have too many retired numbers to keep honoring guys. So, unretire some so that others can be honored too.

  6. My bad. I was 9 when Butkus’ jersey was retired. Off a little in my thinking there.

  7. After reading this, other than changing his routes to catch other receivers passes Jerry was an alright dude.

  8. I agree. If another Eagles player ever asks to wear numbers 5, 20, or 60, I will be completely pissed if the team allows them.

    5 wouldnt bother me too much. McNabb was moreso a team savior from being awful than he was a great QB, but 20 and 60 are legends. Nobody should ever have that on an Eagles Jersey again.

  9. Yeah, that kind of manipulation by a suit is disgusting.

    On a positive note, the greatest receiver in Seahawk history had no problem with the greatest receiver in NFL history wearing his number.

    That’s called “class” folks.

  10. I agree.
    No retired player should be asked if it is ok to “un-retire ” his number.
    The only exception might be if the retiree on his own, offer his number to a truly great, future first ballot Hall of Famer.
    And I emphasize, ‘on his own’.
    I don’t believe that Manning asked Tripuka for his number as I think that Kelly Tripuka offered it.

  11. If something isn’t done about retiring numbers, pretty soon teams will run out of them. There’s 53 players on each team and 90 go to training camp, and different positions have to wear a certain range, so I imagine some of these teams are actually running short. Soon they’ll have to go to 3 digits.

  12. and we in here talking about numbers. I mean, listen, we’re talking about numbers, not a game, not a game, not a game, we talking about numbers. Not a game.

  13. That was shocking. You’d think even a new president would respect their team’s history and keep 80 retired. As a 49er fan, I was surprised to hear Seattle would let anyone wear 80, even the greatest receiver of all time. Sure, at the time Seattle didn’t have a ring, much less even reach a Super Bowl, but I’ve known a number of Hawks fans before all the “bandwagon” allegations came about. But Jerry respects greatness, as shown when he asked Steve if he could wear 80, but remember that when Isaac Bruce came around to the 49ers, Jerry Rice told him he could wear 80, but out of respect for Jerry, chose to wear 88.

  14. they have team records, team awards etc.

    to retire a number is supposed to be a really big deal. you have guys wearing the same number w/ 90 man rosters as is, so to retire a number takes away options

    but it should. you are honoring someone who when people talk about your franchise they talk about that person. he comes up. it should never be worn again.

    they just need to be more selective in some places with who has their number retired

  15. Largent was a player I loved to watch back in the day. It was fun to see him interviewed yesterday. I can’t believe that story just now is coming out.

    I’m not big on retiring numbers. For example, is there anyone else who will ever be #34 for the Bears? And if there is someone else that all time great, then they deserve it. Two players have been given #54 since Tedy Bruschi retired. #54 is still Tedy’s #. Dennard has Rodney Harrison’s #37, but #37 is always going to be Rodney’s to me.

  16. Jerry Rice was great, but Moss was better than Rice hands down. You give Moss Montana, Young, and Gannon for 20 years, he would’ve put up the most ridiculous numbers ever seen. It wouldn’t even be close. I find it interesting that no one regards Emmitt Smith as the best RB, even though he has the best numbers because he had a great oline. Yet, everyone regards Jerry as the hands down best WR BECAUSE of the numbers. Not to mention, I would argue a WRs numbers are even MORE dependent on the play of others than a RB.

  17. This is all pretty funny when you consider that the un-retired Michael Jordan wasn’t even allowed to wear #23 after it had been retired in his honor until wearing #45 for a period of time.

  18. Numbers should no longer be retired. It is an old tradition that has run it’s course. With the ongoing expansion of rosters and the limitations the NFL puts on players in certain positions wearing specific numbers, it is no longer feasible. I think there should be at least a 50 year wait to retire a number and all should be done posthumously. There are places at stadiums to recognize players, (ring of fame), there are team hall of fames and there is an overall Hall of Fame. I don’t know how much more recognition players should have. If the Packers retired the number of every great player then there would be no numbers left. Conversely, the Browns need to make up excuses to retire numbers.

  19. We Seahawk fans hated Rice for wearing #80 and booed him on the field. Fans wearing Rice-80 jerseys were harassed in the stands, and I saw people have beers thrown at them. There were fans burning Rice jerseys in the parking lot before/after the game.

    To think that was engineered by Whitsitt is just disgusting. What a complete and total tool. He better never show up in the Emerald City or we’ll sick our flying monkeys on him.

    Whitsitt, Ruskell, and Behring – the Seahawks Hall of Shame. Most hated names of all time.

  20. Peyton had no intention of wearing 18 and didn’t ask to wear 18. He was gonna wear 16 but tripucka begged him to wear it cuz he was so excited Peyton chose the broncos. Peyton agreed to wear it only cuz frank said it would be an honor for him to wear it. Peyton didn’t ask, elway didn’t ask, and bowlen didn’t ask. Frank brought it up himself, and he’s the reason manning wears it. Totally different situation.

  21. juliusanonymous says:
    Jul 1, 2014 4:17 PM
    We Seahawk fans hated Rice for wearing #80 and booed him on the field.
    I was at the Monday Night game against the Cowboys, and every time Jerry caught a pass (8 receptions, 145 yards, a TD) the entire stadium started chanting “Jer-ry! Jer-ry! Jer-ry!” Never heard anything like it for any other Seahawk player…I was stunned.

    Disclaimer: I’d had a few beers before the kickoff, so maybe it WAS booing. Yet another reason why I love beer.

  22. pillowporkers says: Jul 1, 2014 3:54 PM

    Jerry Rice was great, but Moss was better than Rice hands down. You give Moss Montana, Young, and Gannon for 20 years, he would’ve put up the most ridiculous numbers ever seen. It wouldn’t even be close. I find it interesting that no one regards Emmitt Smith as the best RB, even though he has the best numbers because he had a great oline. Yet, everyone regards Jerry as the hands down best WR BECAUSE of the numbers. Not to mention, I would argue a WRs numbers are even MORE dependent on the play of others than a RB.

    You should have just said you are too young to have ever gotten to see Jerry Rice play and walked away.

    Now everyone knows.

  23. Emitt Smith was good but not as good as Jim Brown, Walter Payton, and Barry Sanders just to name a few. That’s why he isn’t mentioned as being one of the best backs ever.

  24. Considering how many numbers have been retired in various sports they are going to have to change the rules regarding this issue, and only retire numbers for a limited period. Meanwhile if a player says it’s okay for another player to wear their retired number then what is the problem? It was a very classy move by Largent, which I would have expected no less from.

  25. Jerry Rice didn’t retire as a Raider smdh. He signed a 1 day contract to retire a 9er. They played my Seahawks the day they recognized his retirement as a 9er.

  26. “If a number is retired, it’s retired. It never should be unretired — and the person for whom it was retired never should be put on the spot about unretiring the number.”

    Boom. That’s it right there. Retired means retired — it doesn’t mean unretired here, there and anywhere on whomever’s whim of the month.

  27. I have been hearing quite a lot about retiring jersey numbers and I never hear any good soloutions to making it work without running out of numbers, I have a way that I think would work well and be very simple to implement, so here goes, after a player has achieved “Ring Of Honor” credentials for his team, you would not retire the players number, but you would retire his team jersey with both his name and number shown, so his actual name and number would be retired, no other player with the same last name could ever wear the same number again, or to avoid any future confusion, you could add the first letter of the players first name or even in the possibility of exact name, add the whole first name, it could be kind of like a college team where you have a streak of like numbered players, like USC with the number 55 as worn by Jack Del Rio, Junior Seau, Willie McGinest, Keith Rivers. A team could still honor its greatest players throughout history, you would have the jersey to display and teams will never run out of jersey numbers. its not the number on the jersey , it is the player who wore it. and the statistics could still say that the players jersey / number were retired. because his jersey was retired but still vey usable. under this idea Michael Irving’s jersey could be retired, and Dez Bryant would still be able to use the number 88 and work on his own legacy, and if he does make it to the hall, not have an issue. I think this could be a very simple solution to honor the players who have earned it.

  28. If a team has 25 all world guys over 30-40 years and retires all their jerseys, there’ll be no numbers left. It was a nice thought but one that will create problems for many teams in the future, especially teams like Seattle. A few others, not so much.

  29. I’m not a 49ers fan or a Seahawks fan thank god but who cares it’s Jerry Rice. He’s the MJ of the NFL. The man is head and shoulders better than any WR to ever dawn a jock strap if Jesus played WR and wore number 7 he should dust it off for JR. As the “playmaker” has alluded to many times he is Jesus in cleats. Largent should have been and probably was honored to let him wear it who cares what some hater fans or media think. Seriously it’s a jersey number get over it I can think of worse tragedy in the world like this writer being employed to write. What do you want 3 numbered jerseys? It’s going to have to happen if you keep retiring them. However for this GM to lie to both men just for the sake of a few extra bucks makes him look like a tool.

  30. If this story is true, which I believe it is — it is very disappointing. Two legends manipulated by Whitsitt’s for monetary gain. Pretty freaking lame.

    Many, if not all, of the elements for a Fraud cause of action. It might be kind of tricky to argue damages — but it still has a bad smell to it.

  31. seattle will never have any more numbers retired. they said years ago, only number 12 for the fans and number 80 for largent.

  32. Some teams have different criteria than others. Some are pretty lax, and retire numbers for every HOF player and some fan favorites. Others are pretty strict. If you look at the number of players in the HOF for the Packers (excluding coaches and players that only played for the team for a couple of years), there are 20. Yet the team has only retired five numbers (#3 – Tony Canadeo, RB; #14 – Don Hutson, WR; #16 – Bart Starr, QB; #66 – Ray Nitschke, LB; and #92 – Reggie White, DE). The criteria for them isn’t just “where they one of the team’s greats?” or even “where they HOF caliber?” but “where they arguably the best ever at their position?” Canadeo sticks out a bit from that criteria, but his number was retired in 1951. Hutson & Jerry Rice were the best WR’s of their eras. Bart Starr is the most prolific post-season QB of all time. And Nitschke is Nitschke. Reggie made the cut despite not being a “lifetime” Packer because of how important he was to the resurrection of the franchise. And of course Favre’s #4 is the most likely to join that group in our lifetime.

    Bottom line – you can’t go handing out jersey retirements like candy. They should be held to an even higher standard than the HOF or else you will eventually have a problem on your hands.

  33. Let’s increase the pool exponentially. 3 digit numbers for all. Assuming these sports last some hundreds of years into the future, this will become a necessity, right?

  34. There will never be a shortage of Jersey numbers!
    99 Jersey numbers and 53 man rosters, no team at anytime will have 46 numbers to retire!!!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!