Sunday, October 26, 2008

Week 8: Good Bye

No Packers game this week, so I thought that it might be a good time to discuss the various ways the Packers have paid tribute to persons associated with either the club or the National Football League.

The first uniform tribute of which I am aware came during Super Bowl XXXI, when NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, who had died the previous month, was honored with a helmet decal worn by both clubs:

The next tribute came in the 2003 season, when Tony Canadeo passed away. Tony was a mainstay in the Packers organization from the day he was picked by the Packers out of Gonzaga in the ninth round of the 1941 draft (#77 overall).

"The Gray Ghost", as he was styled on account of his prematurely gray hair, would go on to a Hall of Fame career with Green Bay. In twelve seasons with the Packers, he ran for 4,971 career rushing yards on 1,025 attempts (a 4.2 average) and passed for 1,642 yards and made 69 receptions for 579 yards. His number 3 was retired in 1952, the second number so honored by the Pack. After his retirement, Canadeo was a fixture in Green Bay, serving the club as broadcaster and member of the Board of Directors and Executive Committee. After stepping down, he was a Director Emeritus until his death.

Tony passed away on November 29, 2003, at the age of 84. Starting with the following game, December 17th against the Bears, the team added a memorial decal to the back of their helmets, which they wore for the rest of the season. The decal featured Candeo's number 3 in white within a black football:

The following season saw two different helmet tributes. Week Two saw a one-game tribute to Pat Tillman, the first active NFL player to be killed in combat since 1970. The League-wide decal incorporated Tillman's number 40 in a black circle bordered with a broken white line:

The decal would be worn by the Cardinals for the remainder of the season. Players on other teams, most notably Jake Plummer of the Broncos, asked for permission to wear it beyond Week Two but were denied on the grounds that some players wearing a memorial and some not wearing it would make the uniforms less, well, uniform.

Later that same season, on December 26, 2004, Packers legend Reggie White passed away at the age of 43. White was a symbol of the Packers' resurgence in the 1990s, the Packers' biggest signing since the advent of free agency. A dominant defensive presence, he helped lead the Packers to two Super Bowls and one World Championship. His on-field accomplishments are too numerous to list here, but can be read on the Packers' site.

The White tribute decal, a clear circle with his number 92 in black, was worn for the remainder of the season.

The next helmet memorial would come in 2007, after the murder of Washington safety Sean Taylor. Worn League-wide, it was similar in design to the Tillman tribute, except for the latter's broken white border:

Perhaps mindful of the controvery surrounding the denial of Plummer's tribute to Tillman, the NFL allowed players to wear it for the rest of the season, at their own discretion. I don't have any specific numbers for individual players to back this up, but I seem to recall virtually all Packers continued to wear it for the rest of the season.

Then there's the Gene Upshaw mess, which I talked about earlier this season.

It's amazing to see how commonplace these types of tributes have become in recent years. Tony Canadeo was the third of the Packers' retired-number greats to pass away, but the first to be given a memorial decal. Neither Don Hutson nor Ray Nitschke were so honored, for the sole reason that such memorials hadn't yet become standard. In early 1997, the Pete Rozelle helmet decal was a big deal; today it'd hardly be mentioned.

I'm interested in earlier Packer memorials - did they ever wear black armbands for anyone back in the day? If you have any information, please let me know.

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