Gatski's Number 72 Joins Long List Nationwide

Pick of a number, any, it's no the spinning wheel at the local carnival. When it comes to sports, certain numbers recall certain players almost immediately. Say number 14 for the Cincinnati Reds, almost everyone comes up with Pete Rose. Number 32? Depends on whether you are a fan of the Cleveland Browns (Jim Brown), Los Angeles Lakers (Magic Johnson) or Buffalo Bills (O.J. Simpson). Number retirements are both loved and hated by fans, but they are more and more popular.

Obviously, the number one thing is why that player or that number? Marshall will retire #72, belonging to Frank Gatski. He is a two-year starter for the Herd in 1941-42; he is MU's only member of the NFL Hall of Fame, winning eight titles in 11 tries in 12 seasons with the Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions; and he was inducted into the WV Sportswriters Hall of Fame in 1974. Yet, he was only in the third class (second football only group) of his alma maters Athletic Hall of Fame, falling in line behind Bob Adkins, Tommy Good, Cam Henderson, Jackie Hunt, Reggie Oliver, Jim Pearcy, Tom Stark, and John Zontini. All great players at MU, to be sure, but none with the national credentials of Gatski until 2004, when Hunt entered the College Football Hall of Fame. He was followed in 2005 by Herd receiver Mike Barber.

Gatski's pro credentials are without peer, winning more championships in pro football than any other position player. His college career at MU was a sensational 1941, when Marshall upset Wake Forest on the way to a 7-1 mark. In 1942, there were few men on campus due to WWII and Gatski and the Herd slumped to 1-7-1. Gatski, and other Marshall players in 1941-42, could earn no all-league honors for these years as the Herd was an independent, belonging to the West Virginia Athletic Conference in a non-competing basis, although Hunt, Pearcy and Gatski were mentioned in newspapers of the era as among the best in the state.

While there is no doubt Gatski is deserving of the honor, where do you cut off the list of retired numbers? Hunt (#75) and Barber (#28) would apparently be eligible, as they won entry into a select few with their induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. Barber was the I-AA Player of the Year in 1988, while Hunt set an NCAA record with 27 touchdowns in 1940 and both were two-time All-Americans. But with two in two years, we can surely expect other players to go in the College Hall of Fame, including Mike Payton (I-AA Player of the Year, two-time Southern Conference Offensive Player and Athlete of the Year and All-American in 1992) and Chris Parker (MU's and SC's all-time leading rusher, two-time SC Offensive Player of Year and All-American in 1995). Possibilities for the CFB HOF include lineman Phil Ratliff, wide receiver Randy Moss, quarterback Chad Pennington, receiver Troy Brown, defensive linemen Billy Lyon or B.J. Cohen or Jonathan Goddard among others, especially from the days of the Herd dominating I-AA football.

It can be a minefield for athletic department's, this retiring of jerseys. Certain schools have very specific criteria while others are a bit more broad. The University of Tennessee had retired the numbers of four players in 1946 who were killed in the war; just recently, they announced they would add Reggie White, Peyton Manning and Doug Adkins to that list, causing outrage in some quarters while others said it was about time.

Virginia Tech has began to honor jerseys, saving the numbers 1-99 while singling out all-time greats. Florida State retires numbers, but lets other players continue to wear them. Nebraska has 15 retirees, those who have won national honors like the Lombardi, Outland or Heisman. MU former mates in the MAC, Western Michigan, have two retired numbers: #44, belonging all-time leading rusher (top ten in NCAA at time of his senior season) belonging to Jerome Pursell; and #49, All-American linebacker John Offerdahl. New Conference USA mate Southern Miss has retired Brett Farve's #4 and Ray Guy's #44. Missouri has retired seven numbers, although two players were honored for wearing #23 at different times in Mizzou history.

Every school is different, as are every pro team. The Cleveland Browns have retired five numbers, the Detroit Lions six and the Chicago Bears a league-leading 13 numbers. Meanwhile, despite all the great players they have had, the Dallas Cowboys have retired none to date.

Marshall has seven jerseys retired in basketball: #12-Karen Pelphrey, #16-Hal Greer, #17-Charlie Slack, #22-John Taft, #40-Walt Walowac, #42-Kritina Behnfeldt and #44-Leo Byrd. The #1 worn by long-time baseball skipper Jack Cook, the winningest single sport coach in MU history with over 400 victories, has also been set aside. Now, for the first time, a football number will be set aside as #72, worn by Frank "Gunner" Gatski, will not be worn again...except by Ryan Baynes, the junior Herd guard who currently wears the number and will, one presumes, allowed to wear the number until his career is over in 2006.

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