Expanded jersey rules could reignite retired number debate

1991 AFC Divisional Playoff Game - Houston Oilers vs Denver Broncos - January 4, 1992
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Plenty of players from days gone by could be introduced to a modern audience, for reasons other than nostalgia.

With the NFL revolutionizing the numbering system for players, there’s an unintended consequence that could play out for several teams. With a wide swath of players now able to wear single-digit numbers and other significant changes expanding the numbers that players can wear, the chances of players wanting to wear numbers that currently are retired will increase.

It happened earlier this year, when J.J. Watt joined the Cardinals and the family of Marshall Goldberg agreed to let Watt wear No. 99 — and when the Cardinals didn’t say to all involved, “Sorry, but retired means retired.”

As single-digit numbers go, the following are off limits, until of course they aren’t: Cardinals 8 (Larry Wilson); Bears 3 (Bronko Nagurski), 5 (George McAfee), 7 (George Halas); Broncos 7 (John Elway); Lions 7 (Dutch Clark); Packers 3 (Tony Canadeo), 4 (Brett Favre); Chiefs 3 (Jan Stenerud); Rams 7 (Bob Waterfield); Giants 1 (Ray Flaherty), 4 (Tuffy Leemans), 7 (Mel Hein); Eagles 5 (Donovan McNabb); 49ers 8 (Steve Young); Oilers/Titans 1 (Warren Moon), 9 (Steve McNair).

Given that linebackers can now wear numbers from 1 through 49 and running backs can wear numbers in the 80s, other issues could arise. For each team that confronts a question like this, the answer ultimately will hinge on whether retired actually means retired.

43 responses to “Expanded jersey rules could reignite retired number debate

  1. I dunno — one reason for this change is to help out teams like the Bears who have retired a bunch of numbers (13!).

  2. I had no idea Jan Stenerud’s number was retired. That’s awesome if only because how random it is.

  3. Ain’t broken? NFL changes it. Change everything eventually and the game will no longer be football.

  4. #’s should never be retired. I can think of two exceptions, I’m sure there are plenty more. Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente. Even then, it’s debatable. Might as well go Josh Gibson with #20. Best BB player ever (according to my dad and others who played the Monarchs).

    If someone thinks they’re man enough to wear #21 in Pittsburgh (or 75 for the Steelers) then go for it. How about Lamar Jackson wearing #7 in Denver? Wouldn’t that kind of bridge a gap or 3?

    Kids aspire to certain #’s. If they are the .00001% of those who have said opportunity, they should get it. I’d be honored if I were Clemente (as I know he would be) if someone grew up wanting 21.

    Not to mention triple digits (or letters) will happen if the game is around another 100 plus years

  5. You shouldn’t retire numbers. Put the player in ring of honor, or whatever you method of honoring them. But leave number alone. As time goes on, its going to be an issue. Only so many numbers.

  6. There are too many retired numbers. Having your number retired should be even more difficult then reaching the HOF. It should be reserved for only the best of the best. Unfortunately teams cheapen this honor by using it mainly as yet another marketing ploy.

  7. I like the way the Cowboys do it. Leaving #88 or #22 for athletes that want to follow that legacy. Hasn’t always worked out but aspiring to greatness and keeping the number alive for future generations seems better to me than keeping the number up in the rafters.

  8. Even a nice guy like Peyton Manning becomes a selfish jerk by insisting on a retired Broncos number. He went down a peg or two in my book.

  9. For some reason, the powers that be think that fans like to be debating everything all the time. I don’t believe that’s so. It would be nice not to have something to debate and just to enjoy watching football for a change.

  10. This will easily be resolved by the NFL. In a few years if you want #2 but its not available, you get #2.1. All for a fee of course. It’s all about the money.

  11. I can already hear the majority of fans on here (millennials) crying that they never heard of some of these guys or saw them play, so why should their numbers be retired?

  12. The 49ers retired Steve Young’s number, but not Joe Montana’s? Absolutely crazy.

  13. 2006ravensd says:
    April 24, 2021 at 11:28 am

    Why the hell did the Eagles retire McNabb’s number…
    ——
    Seriously? Uh, he’s the best QB in that team’s history, led them to an AFC title and the longest stretch of sustained success in Eagles history? Pretty sure he holds most of their passing records as well.

  14. Imagine how much more money the league could make if every team got a Super Bowl trophy every year! Think of 32x the SB-winner-merchandise revenue! Heck, gambling is the only reason a team even has to lose any more. Why not just pretend they don’t so we can sell more stuff?

  15. riggo08 says: “The 49ers retired Steve Young’s number, but not Joe Montana’s? Absolutely crazy.”
    ——————

    What’s absolutely crazy is that you have no idea what you’re talking about.

    49ers retired his #16 way back in 1997 during halftime against Broncos on Monday Night Football. It was HUGE – Bill Walsh presented it with Eddie DeBartolo and Jerry Rice was still playing with Broncos and cheering on the Denver sideline.

  16. Why not change the stupid one helmet rule so that we can have our throwbacks back instead of wasting time trying to make the NFL look like college.

  17. riggo08 says:

    April 24, 2021 at 4:42 pm

    The 49ers retired Steve Young’s number, but not Joe Montana’s? Absolutely crazy.

    —-

    Article was talking about retired single digit numbers.

  18. WFT has one single digit number retired . Sonny !..I agree with Florio..nothing is set in stone..BUT Jurgensen’s number 9 is as close to ” never gonna happen” there is.

  19. riggo08 says:
    April 24, 2021 at 4:42 pm
    The 49ers retired Steve Young’s number, but not Joe Montana’s? Absolutely crazy.
    ———————————————————————-—————————-
    The 49ers have retired Montana’s number 14. It wasn’t a single digit- obviously. This entire story went over your head.

  20. I was wrong.WFT has only two OFFICIAL numbers retired: Sammy Baugh and Bobby Mitchell…neither single digits..They have eight “unofficial ” numbers deemed untouchable…until they aren’t. Sonny’s is the only single digit number currently unavailable. Un-retiring any teams numbers will need a lot of flaming hoops to be navigated.

  21. I don’t see the reason for the number change. Except for money. But retired numbers are retired for a reason.

  22. 2006ravensd says:
    April 24, 2021 at 11:28 am
    Why the hell did the Eagles retire McNabb’s number…
    ———————————-

    Maybe cuz hes tied for the 2nd best qb in franchise history imho… 1. RC12 2A. St Nick 2b. Donny

  23. knucklejerky says:

    April 24, 2021 at 12:06 pm

    There are too many retired numbers. Having your number retired should be even more difficult then reaching the HOF. It should be reserved for only the best of the best. Unfortunately teams cheapen this honor by using it mainly as yet another marketing ploy.
    ———-
    Its baffling this comment has so many upvotes. Your saying it should be harder to be 1 of the best players or mean the most to/for 1 franchise than it is to be 1 of the best players when taking every franchise into account.

  24. With many players choosing not to show up for off season workouts, I would imagine many of them will need expanded jerseys!!

  25. The most glaring thing I got from this was that the Packers have retired Brett Farve’s number but not Bart Starr’s.

  26. ggreen657 says:
    April 24, 2021 at 11:01 pm
    The most glaring thing I got from this was that the Packers have retired Brett Farve’s number but not Bart Starr’s.

    —————————

    The Packers did retire Starr’s #15, actually. A long time ago.

  27. 2006ravensd says:
    April 24, 2021 at 11:28 am

    Why the hell did the Eagles retire McNabb’s number…
    ——
    Seriously? Uh, he’s the best QB in that team’s history, led them to an AFC title and the longest stretch of sustained success in Eagles history? Pretty sure he holds most of their passing records as well.

    _________________________________________________________________________________

    Apparently you never heard of Ron Jaworksi, Randall Cunningham, and Norm Van Brocklin, who were all better QB’s than McNabb.

  28. Maybe there is a way to make all the retired numbers available and will benefit the community at the same time. The NFL will set an amount ( same for all numbers on all teams)…say $ 50.000 to 75.000. The player that wants to use a specific retired # will have to make a donation to a charitable organization ( it could also be a research one that is trying to find a cure to a particular disease ) in the honored players name. Many players have their own charity set up or support one). You could give the retired player the chance to agree or not to a certain individual wearing his number ( in case of issues). Or the league could make it mandatory that everybody has the right of “buying” a number. Those are details that can be worked out.

  29. Sunday Swami says:
    April 24, 2021 at 8:25 pm

    Its baffling this comment has so many upvotes. Your saying it should be harder to be 1 of the best players or mean the most to/for 1 franchise than it is to be 1 of the best players when taking every franchise into account.
    _______________________

    If they are retiring your number than YES. That means you were so great, the team is content with nobody wearing it ever again. While I if doesn’t Bryant was good enough he and Irvin could both have worn 88 and went to the HOF.

  30. Before I clicked on this after reading the headline, I thought you were going to say the opposite. With more numbers now available, I think we might see more numbers retired.

  31. Goldberg was a great goalie too. But got benched for a girl. But did come in clutch off the bench

  32. mikeyb says:
    April 25, 2021 at 11:22 am
    2006ravensd says:
    April 24, 2021 at 11:28 am

    Why the hell did the Eagles retire McNabb’s number…
    ——
    Seriously? Uh, he’s the best QB in that team’s history, led them to an AFC title and the longest stretch of sustained success in Eagles history? Pretty sure he holds most of their passing records as well.

    _________________________________________________________________________________

    Apparently you never heard of Ron Jaworksi, Randall Cunningham, and Norm Van Brocklin, who were all better QB’s than McNabb.

    ==============================================

    Jaworski and Cunningham better than McNabb? Please. I’m not a huge McNabb fan, always thought he was a bit overrated, but there is no comparison between him and Jaworski. Cunningham was a far better athlete but not a better QB.

  33. How about giving each player an oversized and unique QR code instead of a number? Fans could snap a picture and they’d have his bio and highlites at their fingertips.

  34. Not seeing how more guys wanting numbers changes anything. Only one guy can have the same number so it doesn’t matter if there are 3 people in line for a number or just 1. And what would the teams’ incentive be to unretire numbers? If the current player is a star his jersey will sell regardless what number he has and if he isn’t a star fans aren’t going to flock to buy a legendary player’s number with some lesser current player’s name on it.

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