Yesterday, it was brought to my attention that the Bears had issued the number 50, the number worn by Mike Singletary, to James Anderson. The significance was that Singletary's former number has not been issued by the Bears in two decades. The Bears have 13 numbers retired, the most in the NFL, and it got me thinking. Should numbers in the NFL ever be retired?
Retiring numbers is a sketchy business. If the NFL survives long enough, and some would argue it won't survive too many more decades, players deserving of having their numbers retired won't ever see those numbers permanently hung up simply because teams will run out of numbers to actually wear. The other possibility is that numbers will have to be brought out of retirement.
Obviously, speaking of a time when numbers can't be retired out of necessity or when numbers are brought out of retirement is like speaking of the time when global warming floods much of the coastal areas of the world. It probably won't happen in our life times.
In my mind, numbers should never be fully retired, except in rare instances. For example, the number 18 in Indianapolis may never be worn again. The number 12 in New England carries the same type of legacy. Outside of those two instances, I can't think of another player in the NFL that deserves to have his number fully retired.
Instead, I suggest numbers be reserved, as was number 50 in Chicago. It was never officially retired, but it was not worn. This alternative is a way to honor great players while leaving their jersey open to use. In my mind, there's just other, and often better, ways of honoring great players than by simply putting their jersey away for good.