Thursday, May 08, 2008

On Retired Numbers

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.

11Francis Wistert,
Albert Wistert,
Alvin Wistert
47Bennie Oosterbaan
48Gerald Ford
87Ron Kramer
98Tom Harmon

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.


Jon said...

The link just blinks

Geoff said...

The link is fixed now. Thanks for letting me know.

Unknown said...

I wonder if keeping numbers around is a norm across colleges, and that they all build this kind of tradition, or whether Michigan's emphasis on tradition over the individual quashes any real thoughts about number retirement, no matter how good the player is.

Craig Barker said...


I hate to use them as an example, but I believe that Notre Dame actually posts the previous wearers of one's number in the back of the locker to connect the past to the present. I've always liked that idea, even if it's ND.

I know that many colleges retire the jersey, but not the number, and I could live with that, if we wanted to honor players individually. North Carolina basketball has very specific requirements for how players are honored based on awards they win.

Think about it thought, Michigan hockey doesn't have any retired numbers, that I am aware of. The fact that Brendan Morrison wore the same number as Red Berenson is a great connection in my mind.

Great article GZ.

Geoff said...

Looking around a few comparable programs that listed info about retired numbers, here's what I came up with:

Notre Dame: 0
Ohio State: 7, and it seems like most of them (if not all) were retired in the past decade or so.
USC: At least the 7 for their Heisman winners.
Iowa: 2

I've also heard about the Notre Dame practice that Craig mentioned, and I think that's cool. I didn't see anything else about traditions involving the actual numbers.

I think MSU basketball has banners up to honor certain former players, but not retired numbers

Aram said...

I've heard about the Notre Dame thing, and I can't remember if it was at ND or at another school (maybe UCLA basketball?), but you have to have stayed all 4 years to have your name on that list in the locker.

Also, if I'm not mistaken, Cazzie Russell is the only jersey Michigan basketball has truly "retired." Phil Hubbard, Glen Rice, Bill Buntin, and Rudy Tomjanovich's jerseys are all "honored," but not "retired." I need to double check on that, but I'm almost certain that's the truth. Which in itself is interesting.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the insight. I like the examples of connecting college players to their past.

Love reading the HSR - get more knowledge and information, better analysis, and more marching band coverage than the Daily ever attempted. Cheers.

Mike B. said...

In hockey, you could say that 40-99 are retired, since Red doesn't let them be issued.