Saturday, June 9, 2012

"Number One in Your Programs, Number One in Your Hearts"

Football players, perhaps more than any other athletes, become identified with the numbers they wear. they don't have the same kind of effortless identification that baseball or basketball players have; professionals in other sports can go about the game with their faces in full view, but a football player's face is shrouded by his helmet.

His jersey number, therefore, takes on an enlarged importance. It's splashed across his chest, his back, his shoulders, so every fan watching can use it to pick him out on the field, out of the crowd of identically-dressed men wearing the same helmets.

Any Packer fan worth her salt knows the numbers. 14. 3. 15. 66. 92. Numbers than have become so identified with one man that the team has decided nobody will ever wear it again (even if there are a few glitches from time to time).

Then there is a second tier of retired numbers; numbers which aren't officially retired but are withheld anyway. Paul Hornung's number 5 has been kept off the field (except for 1987, when it was given to a player who later decided he didn't like the comparison). #4 is currently on the shelf, waiting for enough time to pass to heal the wounds between the Packers and Brett Favre.

Then there's good old number 1.

"King of the hill, top of the heap, A-number-one," if you listen to Old Blue Eyes.

One is, as the old song has it, the loneliest number. Everybody wants to collectively cheer "We're #1!", but few Packers have ever been personally associated with the number.

Packers fans rarely ever see the number 1 on a jersey, save annually in April at Rockefeller Center, where it is held aloft by a smiling freshly-minted young millionaire overflowing with confidence and promise.

The Packers have also occasionally used #1 for other special events:

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
But how about on the field?

According to John Maxymuk's excellent book Packers by the Numbers: Jersey Numbers and the Players Who Wore Them, the number one has only been worn by a single player, and then only for two seasons: 1925 & 1926.

That player was none other than Curly Lambeau.

Here's the beginning of Maxymuk's entry on the number. As he notes, Lambeau went on to wear #14 in 1927, #42 in 1928 and #20 in 1929 and 1930:

Technically, Maxymuk is right. No other player has worn the number 1 jersey. But we shouldn't be interpreted to mean that the digit hasn't been associated with anyone else in the organization. I can think of at least one other notable man who proudly wore the digit:

There it is, on the cap of Vince Lombardi. Where other men had their jersey numbers, Lombardi's gear was emblazoned with a proud number one. Truly "number one in their hearts".

It seems to me that the Packers have an unusual opportunity here. There is a uniform number that hasn't been worn in ninety years. It has only ever been identified with two men, both towering figures not only in Green Bay Packer history but the very history of the sport.

I propose that the team continues to keep the number out of circulation until August 2019, a mere seven ½ years away—it's lasted this long, why not?—and then retire it. If Lombardi and Lambeau both wore #1, I'm pretty sure no other Packer ever should.

1 comment:

Phluph said...

In my opinion, the number 1 shouldn't be retired, it should be worn by the next coach to win several titles.