Titletown 101: Whose number will get called next?
BY MIKE WARREN
When Brett Favre’s No. 4 was officially taken out of circulation in 2015, his was just the sixth uniform number in the 103-year history of the Green Bay Packers to be retired by the team, never to be worn again. After reviewing those six players and their now-retired numbers in an earlier column, we turn our attention to the future. Who will be next? Who should be next?
We could start is at the very beginning. Earl “Curly” Lambeau co-founded the Packers in 1919, played for the team from 1919-29, and coached the franchise its first 31 years, through the 1949 season. However, there is no uniform number officially retired for the team’s first coach, captain and star player. Lambeau played for the Packers for 11 seasons, although uniform numbers did not appear in game programs prior to 1925, so no player is credited with wearing any specific jersey number prior to that year. In Lambeau’s case, Curly is listed as wearing four different uniform numbers – No. 1 in 1925 and 1926, No. 14 in ’27, 42 in ’28, and 20 in ’29. No one has worn No. 1 since Lambeau in 1926, yet it remains officially available. Perhaps the time has come to change that.
From there, we could move to the 20 Pro Football Hall of Fame players whose former numbers remain available, including No. 5. This number has been worn by 11 Green Bay Packers. Paul Hornung made it famous when he wore it for nine seasons between 1957 and 1966. Four players have worn it since, including quarterback Don Majkowski for most of the 1987 season. Team officials have not used the number since 1988, which makes me wonder if they are contemplating a retirement in the “Golden Boy’s” honor, which I would argue makes perfect sense, and for obvious reasons. Hornung was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986. I think it’s time his uniform number joins the others already adorning the green facade of Lambeau Field’s north end zone.
That leaves 19 other Hall-of-Famers whose numbers have been, or are being, worn by other players. Robert “Cal” Hubbard, Johnny “Blood” McNally, Clarke Hinkle, Mike Michalske and Arnie Herber wore so many numbers during their careers, it would be difficult to zero in on just one. In fact, Michalske holds the team record for wearing the most numbers – nine – during his playing days. Herber is second on that list, with eight.
Safety Bobby Dillon wore No. 44 from 1952-59, but nobody remembers because he played on some pretty unforgettable teams. In fact, if you ask most longtime Packers fans who No. 44 was, they’d likely say Donny Anderson. Dillon, by the way, still holds the Packers’ career record for interceptions with 52. He went into the Hall of Fame in 2020.
The 13 remaining Hall-of-Fame players whose digits remain active either wore numbers also made famous by other players, or used so frequently the team simply cannot afford to lose them to retirement – like Charles Woodson’s No. 21, Willie Wood’s No. 24, Herb Adderley’s No. 26, Jim Taylor’s No. 31, Jim Ringo’s No. 51, and Henry Jordan’s No. 74.
Forrest Gregg might come to the minds of many fans when they see No. 75, but others might think of longtime offensive linemen Ken Ruettgers or Bryan Bulaga. No.’s 80 and 87 conjure up images of great wide receivers like Donald Driver and Jordy Nelson, but no one in their right mind would ever consider retiring those numbers for anyone other than Hall-of-Famers James Lofton and Dave Robinson.
Aside from Hornung, there are two Hall-of-Fame inductees whose numbers I believe warrant retirement. Jerry Kramer’s No. 64 has been used sparingly since he etched his pulling-guard image into NFL immortality during the 1960s. He was the starting right guard on five NFL championship teams, and the placekicker on the ’62 title team. I hope the Packers take care of this sooner than later. Kramer doesn’t have the 44 years the NFL made him wait for his Hall-of-Fame induction.
19 different players have worn No. 36 since Michalske made it the first of his nine jersey numbers in 1929. He wore it to an NFL championship that year, and the next – the first two in team history. Nick Collins wore the same number during the Packers’ 2010 championship run. But I believe the retirement honor should fall to another of the team’s Super Bowl champs, and its most-recent Hall of Fame inductee, LeRoy Butler. Drafted as a cornerback, Butler redefined the strong safety position during the 1990s. Butler forever etched his name – and jersey number – into Packers lore, when in 1993 he jumped into the stands after returning a fumble recovery and lateral from Reggie White for a touchdown, thus creating the “Lambeau Leap”, one of the most iconic celebrations in all of sports, which now has its own permanent statue outside Lambeau Field. I think Butler’s No. 36 deserves a permanent spot inside the stadium, too.
Whoever gets their jersey number retired next will have the honor of being immortalized next to Brett Favre’s name and iconic No. 4, and it’s my belief team officials want that to be Aaron Rodgers and his No. 12. The reigning NFL MVP is a lock to be a first-ballot Hall-of-Fame inductee, and as soon as that happens, I believe he will also take his rightful place among the other Packer legends whose uniform numbers have forever been removed from circulation.
The list of retired numbers will likely end with the Hall-of-Fame players already mentioned. But beyond those, it is fun to speculate and debate which numbers should join the crowd. There are some definite sleeper candidates. I think what kicker Mason Crosby has done for the franchise warrants consideration for retiring his No. 2, a uniform number worn just twice in the team’s 103-year history. Crosby is currently the holder or co-holder of 24 team records. I noticed the team didn’t give any of this year’s draft picks or free agents No. 17. Perhaps they believe Davante Adams is a future Hall-of-Famer, and one deserving of seeing his number retired some day. He is currently the owner or co-owner of eight Packer records. Then there are sentimental favorites, like Larry McCarren, who’s been around the team as a player and sports reporter for 50 years. Perhaps his No. 54 will someday adorn the Lambeau facade. Let the debate continue.
Mike Warren & 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.