It's all in the numbers

Green Bay's top candidates after Reggie White

On Sept. 18, 2005, when the Cleveland Browns come to Lambeau Field, the Green Bay Packers will retire the late Reggie White's number (92). White will join four other legendary Packer greats to also have that honor - Don Hutson (14), Tony Canadeo (3), Bart Starr (15) and Ray Nitschke (66). The Packers are very choosy when it comes to retiring numbers. In fact, among the oldest pro sports franchises, only the Chicago Cubs and the Oakland Athletics (two each) have fewer retired numbers than the Packers.

Compare the Packers to the other major sports teams that have recorded the most championships in their respective leagues. The New York Yankees have 15 retired numbers. The Boston Celtics have 21 retired numbers. The Montreal Canadians have seven retired numbers. Compare the Packers to their oldest and most bitter rival in the NFL, the Chicago Bears. The Bears have 13 retired numbers.

The Packers have an interesting history concerning the numbers that their best players have worn. The Packers did not start wearing numbers until 1925. Founder/coach/player Curly Lambeau wore four different numbers over his career. Lambeau wore numbers (1), (14), (20) and (42). Johnny (Blood ) McNally also wore different numbers as he had (14), (20), (24) and (26) on his jersey. The great Clarke Hinkle wore (30) for most of his career, but he also wore (27), (33), (41) and (45). It's ironic that Lambeau and McNally both wore (14) before the legendary Hutson wore it and had it retired back in 1951.

Hutson (14) and Canadeo (3) both wore exclusively the same number over the course of their career's in Green Bay. The same can't be said for Starr and Nitschke. Starr wore (16) briefly in 1956, before he permanently switched to (15) for the remainder of his stay in Green Bay. Nitschke wore (33) in 1958 before he switched to (66) for the rest of his career.

Who else would be under consideration for having their numbers retired as a Packer? Brett Favre's (4) is a lock obviously. Ahman Green has some work to do, but if he strings together a few more very solid seasons, then he would definitely be considered. In fact, he could share the honor of having (30) retired with Hinkle. Hinkle was all-pro for an astonishing 10 years in a row at one point in his career. Nobody on the Packer roster was feared more in that era, except for Hutson when they played together. The Yankees retired the number (8) for two players, Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey. The Packers would and should consider doing the same thing if Green continues to excel during his tenure in Green Bay.

Other players that deserve this type of consideration would be T Forrest Gregg (75) and S Willie Wood (24). Gregg was all-pro 9 times and went to eight Pro Bowls. Wood duplicated those numbers. Gregg was also called the best player he ever coached by Vince Lombardi. Compare that with Starr and Nitschke. Starr was all-pro four times and went to the Pro Bowl four times, plus was a MVP once. Nitschke was all-pro seven times and unbelievably only went to one Pro Bowl. Other Lombardi-era players were dominant as well. CB Herb Adderley (26) was all-pro seven times and went to five Pro Bowls. FB Jim Taylor (31) and DE Willie Davis (87) each were all-pro six times and each went to five Pro Bowls. Taylor was also a MVP once. So there are definitely players in the past and present that merit the honor that is being bestowed upon Reggie White. The organization should remain prudent in awarding this type of tribute to its great players. But excellence should not be ignored, it should be rightfully honored if warranted.

Bob Fox is a longtime Packers fan and freelance writer from the Tampa, Fla., area.


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