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.