Sidelines: Remembering Reggie

Packers pay ultimate tribute by retiring late defensive end's number

And now, there are five.

On a sun-soaked Green Bay afternoon with 70,400 emotional fans looking on, Reggie White took his rightful place among the legends of Lambeau Field – the best of the best. In the 87-year history of their storied franchise, the Packers had seen fit to retire only four player numbers. Number 3, Tony Canadeo, the first thousand-yard rusher in Packer history. Number 14, Don Hutson, the immortal receiver and scoring machine who changed the passing game forever. Number15, Bart Starr, the field general who guided Vince Lombardi's juggernaut teams to five NFL Championships in seven years. Number 66, Ray Nitschke, Lombardi's fierce middle linebacker who terrorized any opponent who dared venture into his domain.

And now, there are five. Reggie White, arguably the greatest defensive end in pro football history, the mountain of a man who helped return the ‘title' to Titletown, took his rightful place of honor on the façade of Lambeau Field's north end zone. White's beloved number 92 was unveiled next to the others during halftime ceremonies at the Packers-Browns game.

This was indeed a special day, a day that Reggie was actually looking forward to relishing in person. Sadly, his untimely death last December prevented that. But Reggie's hallmark was his spirituality. He always said that he wanted to be remembered more as a man of God than as a great football player. On this day, he was celebrated for both. As the fans waved their banners and once again chanted, "Reggie, Reggie," White's spirit filled Lambeau Field.

Somewhere, you just know that Reggie was smiling. He was smiling when his daughter, Jecolia, sang the national anthem. He was smiling when his framed jersey was placed at midfield. He was smiling when he saw his son, Jeremy, decked out in a number 92, raising his arms and exhorting the crowd to ‘Pump It Up.'

Escorted by Packer president and CEO Bob Harlan and former general manager Ron Wolf, the man who convinced White to come to Green Bay, White's widow Sara took the microphone and expressed her deep appreciation to Packer fans everywhere. She also acknowledged the role they played in convincing White to cast his lot with the Packers. "Because of the patience of the Green Bay fans for so many years, Reggie helped bring the Super Bowl title and the integrity of the city back home to Green Bay," White said.

A three-minute video tribute followed and fans got to see Reggie White in action one more time. Number 92 bull rushing a tackle and overwhelming the quarterback. Number 92 nailing John Elway to end Denver's comeback hopes in 1993. Number 92 surprising Steve Young from behind in the 1995 playoffs. Number 92 sacking Drew Bledsoe three times in Super Bowl XXXI. Number 92 hoisting the Super Bowl trophy and running around the Super Dome. It all seemed like only yesterday.

Reggie had come to Green Bay on a mission. A mission to win the whole thing, something he had never done at any phase in his career. It was a dream – and almost an obsession – for White in the years before that magical season in 1996. After starting his career in the now-defunct USFL in 1984 where he amassed 23 ½ sacks in two seasons with the Memphis Showboats, White joined the Philadelphia Eagles in 1985. That year, he played a total of 31 games between the two leagues. Reggie would retire as the NFL's all-time sacks leader with 198 career sacks. He was famous for terrorizing quarterbacks. But he was equally destructive against the run and his presence literally changed the Eagles' fortunes as they made four playoff appearances between 1985 and 1992. Playoffs, yes. But no Super Bowl. A passion to become a champion smoldered deep inside him and it was finally satisfied after White came to Green Bay.

In 1993 Packer General Manager Ron Wolf pursued White, the league's hottest free agent, with a passion equal to White's desire for a ring. With several teams tripping over themselves to sign him, Reggie did not seriously consider Green Bay until he got a chance to meet Wolf, Coach Mike Holmgren and Brett Favre – the kind of quarterback that could take a team to the Promised Land. White stunned experts around the NFL when he decided to cast his lot with the Packers and, as he did in Philadelphia, White helped turn things around dramatically. Only this time he had a lot more help. Favre. Butler. Levens. Freeman. Jackson. Bennett. Chmura. Brown. Names that represented a building Green and Gold machine. Over the next several seasons, the Packers developed into a powerhouse and those who thought White had lost a step were sadly mistaken. "When you play us, Reggie White is an enormous factor," Wolf said at the time. "He's as good a player as ever to play the position in the history of the game. There still isn't a weak part in his game."

Reggie White had almost supernatural abilities, an unbelievable package of size, strength, speed, agility, intelligence and the heart of a champion. In the end, he was human and he was taken from us far too soon. But he will live on in the hearts and minds of football fans and everyone else whose lives he touched with his faith and his great generosity.

Reggie White is gone but he will never be forgotten. And when fans gaze to that facade in the north end zone of Lambeau Field, Number 92 will be there, reminding everyone of his incredible legacy.

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