This Joe Posnanski post got me thinking about retired numbers in other sports and the categories they fit into. College is a strange case, because I think you only have three or four years to evaluate a guy's contribution. I didn't even realize that we had any retired numbers for football until a few years ago.
|11||Francis Wistert, |
Of our guys, I think Oosterbaan, Harmon, and Kramer are easy to identify under the Greatness category. Oosterbaan was a three-time All-American in a time when I don't think freshmen were allowed on the varsity squad. Kramer was a multi-sport beast whose number was retired after his senior season. Harmon was Harmon; our first Heisman winner and the #1 pick of the NFL draft. The Wisterts were collectively 9-time letter-winners and 4-time All-Americans. None probably get it on their own, so you might argue an emotional component there. I don't know where you file Gerald Ford. His number wasn't officially retired until 1994 and he was never an All-American and his number was in wide circulation until then. It's mostly a recognition for his post-Michigan achievements, which isn't its own category in Posnanski's system. In the pros, the situation rarely arises where a guy has three or four good years, then leaves the sport entirely to go to law school and later becomes a prominent politician.
We do have the interesting situation where no one who played after 1956 has a retired number, and I like it that way. I like what the #1 jersey has come to mean, the recent flap notwithstanding. I like that #7 has some meaning of its own. I want the next guy who puts on #20 to understand what he's taking over. Michigan is a team with a history that stretches back to 1879, and the numbers in circulation make it a living history. The numbers mean different things to different people (#3 is always Marlin Jackson to me), but they're all Michigan.