Titletown 101: Pack has retired just six uniform numbers
For the Tomahawk Leader
“What’s in a name?”
William Shakespeare asks the question in his play Romeo and Juliet to convey that the naming of things is irrelevant. One could argue the same holds true when it comes to athletes.
Oh sure, the players’ last names appear on the backs of their jerseys, sometimes accompanied by a first initial. But what so often catches the fan’s attention first appears below the name, seemingly ten times larger, is the players’ jersey number, which in the NFL also shows up in three other places. Some players have gone so far as to use their jersey numbers as marketing tools. TB12 features an entire line of products inspired by quarterback Tom Brady. In most sports, a few numbers have taken on lives of their own. In NASCAR, the No. 3 has become synonymous with Dale Earnhardt and his race family. In baseball, no one wears No. 42 anymore, after MLB in 1997 universally retired it for all teams in honor of Jackie Robinson. The same honor was recently bestowed upon Bill Russell’s No. 6 in the NBA. The No. 99 on a hockey sweater will always mean Wayne Gretzky to most fans. Then there is Michael Jordan’s No. 23, arguably the most iconic sports number of all time, after he won six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s, and created a sports-marketing empire, based largely off the silhouette image of him dunking a basketball, and the number on the back of his jersey.
I got thinking about jersey numbers while gearing up for another season of Green Bay Packers football. While perusing through the team’s 2022 media guide, I noticed the page which documents Green Bay’s six retired uniform numbers. Six?
“That can’t be right,” I thought to myself. After all, this is the team that has now put 25 players, two head coaches and one general manager in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, including four charter members in 1963.
Of those four, Don Hutson was the only Packer to have his jersey number retired, when the team officially took his No. 14 out of circulation in 1951, making him the eighth and final player to wear the number. Although the exact date is not known, it is believed Tony Canadeo’s No. 3 was retired at some point in late 1952, at the end of his final season with the Packers, even though the team’s media guide lists Kicker Ben Agajanian as having worn the number in 1961, the seventh and last player to do so. Two years after he hung up his cleats for good, and four years before joining the Pro Football Hall of Fame, quarterback Bart Starr became the 21st and final player to wear No. 15, after it was retired by the team in November 1973.
A decade later, No. 66 was retired in honor of longtime linebacker Ray Nitschke during the halftime ceremony of a December 1983 game against, fittingly, the Chicago Bears – even though two other players are listed as having worn the number in 1978 and 1980. Twenty-two years would go by before another jersey number would join the others on the green facade of Lambeau Field’s north end zone. Nine months after his death, Reggie White’s No. 92 was formally removed from circulation during the 2005 home opener against Cleveland – plans which had been set by then-Packers CEO Bob Harlan a year earlier, three months prior to White’s sudden death in December 2004. The Hall-of-Fame defensive end was the sixth and final Packer to wear the number.
The last time the Packers retired a uniform number was in July 2015, in conjunction with quarterback Brett Favre’s induction into the team’s Hall of Fame. Favre’s is perhaps the most iconic No. 4 in all of sports history, although baseball historians might argue that distinction belongs to Lou Gehrig, who wore the number for 14 seasons as a member of the New York Yankees. After his 16-year stint under center was over in Green Bay, Favre was the fifth and final player to put on No. 4 for the green-and-gold.
Many of us could make the argument for retiring some other uniform numbers Green Bay players have made famous over the years. Now I understand you can’t retire a jersey number for every single Pro Bowl or standout player, or fan favorite. The team simply wouldn’t have enough to go around if that were the case. But there are a few numbers currently in use or not yet retired that could be, and probably should be. We’ll tackle that argument in a future installment of Titletown 101, our new semi-regular feature digging in to some of the history behind our favorite football team from the not-yet “Frozen Tundra” of Green Bay.
Continued next week.
Mike Warren and Thom Gerretsen, both of Marshfield, have seen Packers football in all four corners of the U.S. Both also covered the Pack for the now-defunct Goetz Broadcasting in the 1990s Super Bowl era.