Teams shouldn’t retire jerseys if they don’t intend to keep them retired

Houston Texans v Chicago Bears
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Sports teams have a habit of honoring great players by retiring their numbers. Apparently, for some teams, retirement means the same that it did for Brett Favre.

The Cardinals have become the latest team to unretire a number, putting Marshall Goldberg’s number back in circulation for use by J.J. Watt. Setting aside the question of whether Goldberg’s family should have offered or Watt should have accepted, the team retired the number. The team should have said the number will remain retired.

What’s the point of retiring numbers if they’re retired with a vague asterisk that maybe, someday, some great player who has worn that number for his entire career with another team will arrive via free agency or trade? Retirement of a number is (or at least should be) permanent.

If the Cardinals will unretire No. 99 for Watt, they’ll potentially unretire any other number if it suits their interests, from Larry Wilson’s 8 to Pat Tillman’s 40 to Stan Mauldin’s 77 to J.V. Cain’s 88 to Larry Fitzgerald‘s inevitably retired 11.

This isn’t some anti-Cardinals take, even if Cardinals fans will say otherwise. I didn’t like it when the Broncos unretired Frank Tripucka’s No. 18 for Peyton Manning or when the Seahawks unretired Steve Largent’s No. 80 for Jerry Rice. (Largent didn’t like it, either, but he knew he’d look “small” if he said no.)

Here’s another interesting wrinkle. Watt told reporters on Tuesday that he didn’t know No. 99 had been retired until after he signed with the Cardinals. It’s fair to wonder whether the Cardinals didn’t tell him that No. 99 wasn’t available until after the ink was dry on his contract.

Then again, it ultimately was available. It shouldn’t have been. This isn’t a knock on Goldberg’s family or Watt. The team has ultimate control over its numbers. The team is at fault here for failing to honor its word to Goldberg.

Bottom line? Teams like the Raiders and Cowboys have it right. Neither team has officially retired any numbers. That’s the way it should be, because if the NFL (and the world) survives long enough, fans and media won’t know much about the men for whom numbers supposedly were set aside for good.

Eventually, most if not all teams will unretire one or more numbers. So why even do it? Just put the player in the ring of honor, set the number aside for a generation or two, and then let it be worn again by someone else.

41 responses to “Teams shouldn’t retire jerseys if they don’t intend to keep them retired

  1. At long last I totally agree with Florio.

    JJ should be ashamed of himself. But the Cardinals broke a trust. That’s worse.

  2. “set the number aside for a generation or two”

    I like this idea. Set a time limit on it (20 years, maybe) make it clear that after that the team will have final say over who gets certain numbers, and make it a big deal when someone gets that number.

    That would allow the teams to give the numbers some reverence without retiring them completely and will actually allow those past players to get even more attention because of the times it will come up (such as with Goldberg right now).

  3. Teams can do whatever they want to do. Its their team. Not anyone elses business but theirs.

  4. By this logic, people who retire shouldn’t be allowed to work again. We shouldn’t be fetishizing numbers this much, anyways. It’s kind of creepy

  5. Chicago has done a good job of respecting retired numbers. The problem is theyve retired TOO many. They lead the league by far. And it’s only a matter of time before they unretire one for some diva who wants his number.

  6. Agree completely.

    Can you imagine a player on the Colts wearing number 19?
    Or a player on the Packers wearing number 15?
    Or a player on the Bears wearing number 34 or number 51?

    That would never happen. And just because Mr. Goldberg isn’t a household name doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve the same respect, whether his family agrees to it or not

  7. Don’t induct the jersey just the player. I get it all but as a colts fan the proper ring of fame would wipe out ten numbers just from 98-08.

  8. Players should respect a number is retired and not request ito use it. I imagine when Watt’s number in Houston is retired he won’t be happy if some new stud wants to use it.

  9. I like the exception the Cavs made for Larry Nance Jr. to wear his father’s retired number 22.

  10. HagemeisterPark says:
    March 2, 2021 at 7:07 pm
    Teams can do whatever they want to do. Its their team. Not anyone elses business but theirs.

    And if said team has no loyalty to their honored players from the past and hold’s publicity stunt, feel good number retirement ceremonies so be it.

  11. The only exceptions I support are both league mandated retirements. MLB retiring 42 and NHL retiring 99.

  12. “if the NFL (and the world) survives long enough, fans and media won’t know much about the men for whom numbers supposedly were set aside for good.”

    Speak for yourself. Green Bay fans still revere nos. 3, 4 14, 15, 66, and 92.

  13. I think it keeps old timers in our mind more when their number shows up; I really enjoyed Leroy Hoard wearing 44 on the Vikings after Foreman.
    Would really enjoy number 10 on a new Viking QB; haven’t seen a Super Bowl since the last number 10 neat 45 years.

  14. Retired numbers are retired. Using an retired number seems to fly in the face of the previously retired player whom was given the rare honor.

    In fact, now that I think about it, Russell Wilson could piss everyone in Seattle off by insisting his Jersey number be changed to 12. I’ll bet he’d get traded quickly, thereafter. Now, I doubt he wants that, but it goes to show how egregious the decision to use a previously honored number/player.

  15. Complete nonsense. The Raiders, ahead of the curve, yet again… besides drafting that is.

  16. I’d like to think that a player would choose a different number than one that has been retired. Show a little respect to your predecessors. Unless he does some amazing things in AZ for the rest of his career I doubt that they’ll retire the number again anytime soon. What if he gets injured again, doesn’t perform and gets moved after his 2yr contract?

  17. This was a one off. Plus, the family of the retired player’s number literally advocated for JJ to wear it. Go burn your Dr. Seuss books.

  18. Maybe don’t retired the numbers of guys with 1,600 career rushing yards and you will be fine.

    Save the honor for the true franchise super stars.

  19. I bet Theismann feels like an idiot for giving up his retired number to Haskins.

  20. Disagree. If the family acquiesced to use of the jersey number again, so what? It doesn’t diminish the prior player, it honors him and the number.

  21. You’re right.

    Nobody should be allowed to change their mind.



    Yup. That’s the way things should be.

  22. In most cases I agree. You are doubling down on a position I personally don’t agree with though, the JJ Watt thing. If the retired player or his family feels honored by someone wearing it, then I think you honor the player and his family more by being a little flexible. And JJ Watt is a class player. He knows what it means and I believe he will honor it. If it is someone like Antonio Brown? No. I think it is more complicated and seriously? Bigger problems in the world and in the league. Like the upcoming salary cap.

  23. I don’t agree.

    Retiring it marks it as a special jersey number for the organization. In fact, taking the number out of retirement denotes a very high respect for the player entering and therefore the player whom it was retired for. It also doesn’t mean that it’s just going in for general use again either.

  24. When Joe Montana came to the Chiefs, the media wondered whether he would ask for the same #16 that he wore as a Niner. Number 16 was, of course, Hall of Famer Len Dawson’s number and retired. Dawson was asked directly whether he’d allow Montana to wear his former number. His response was spot on: “Joe’s too classy to ask for that.” And he didn’t — Montana wore 19 as a Chief.

  25. No “officially” retired numbers in Dallas, but no one’s worn 12 in a long time.

  26. Some modern players have egos larger than an entire team’s franchise history. It’s just a uniform number, get over it and pick a new one. The number you wear isn’t going to affect your on-field performance in any way.

  27. Theoretically, at some point, as super stars come and go, there will begin to be a shortage of numbers across the landscape of teams. So it’s safe to assume that there will be change in regards to how “retired” numbers will be handled, such as retiring them for a set period of time. While I would NEVER want anyone to wear the #13 in Miami again, it seems logical that at some point in the distant future, it may be necessary to release it….hopefully long after I’ve taken a dirt nap.

  28. Big deal. Can you name three people who ever heard of Marshall Goldberg before this situation came up? Now we all know him.

    I think you can also make an exception if the retired number played in a different city from where the franchise is now 80 years ago.

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