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Dan Snyder can blame Lou Gehrig.
If nobody retired jerseys, Snyder wouldn’t be getting blasted by Bobby Mitchell and stand accused of yet another managerial pooch screw. Sports historians trace the whole jersey-retiring shebang back to July 4, 1939, when the Yankees forever put away Gehrig’s No. 4 shirt after a retirement ceremony in which the dying player famously called himself “the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” Mitchell has portrayed himself as the unluckiest man alive lately, using the announcement of his retirement from the Redskins front office to harangue Snyder for allowing his old No. 49, which no Redskin had worn since Mitchell hung up his cleats in 1968, to be put back into rotation. Snyder’s not the only guy to have problems with unretired jerseys this year: The University of Cincinnati apologized to survivors of a long-dead football hero (Gene Rossi) after admitting that it put the deceased QB’s No. 28, which was retired in 1952, back on the field to land a recruit who wore those digits in high school.
So, to prevent further hurt feelings, here’s a list of retired numbers of athletes who once toiled in our area.
Washington Redskins The NFL doesn’t like retiring numbers, because there are league rules that assign certain groups of numbers to specific positions. But for decades the Redskins, who have only one officially retired jersey (Sammy Baugh’s No. 33), kept numbers of its most beloved players off the roster. Before Snyder stiff-armed that cool custom this season, those deemed too sacred to be handed out included Joe Theismann’s No. 7, Sonny Jurgensen’s No. 9, Charley Taylor’s No. 42, Larry Brown’s No. 43, John Riggins’ No. 44, Mitchell’s No. 49, Sam Huff’s No. 70, and Art Monk’s No. 81. Look for Snyder to throw some sort of money-grabbing extravaganza next season while officially retiring Darrell Green’s No. 28 and Leonard Stephens’, er, Mitchell’s No. 49.
Washington Wizards Elvin Hayes’ No. 11, Gus Johnson’s No. 25, and Wes Unseld’s No. 41 are no longer used by the team. Hayes had his best years as a Washington Bullet, and Johnson’s and Unseld’s finest seasons came as Baltimore Bullets. Nobody who ever played as a Wizard has gotten the honor in Washington. Surely there will be some push to retire No. 23 if ticket sales go down next season. (But before giving him that honor, the team should make Jordan put on a Wizards jersey in those Gatorade commercials as he faces younger versions of himself in Chicago Bulls and North Carolina uniforms. What’s with that, anyway?)
Washington Capitals The Caps have retired the sweaters of Yvon Labre (No. 7), Rod Langway (No. 5), and Dale Hunter (No. 32). Langway and Hunter both enjoyed long, playoff-rich careers with Washington and are obvious choices for laundry retirement. Labre, whose sweater mystified generations of Cap Centre visitors, earned the honor not for on-ice achievement—career stats: 14 goals, 788 penalty minutes in seven seasons; zero playoff appearances—but merely for surviving so long with an expansion squad that is still regarded as the worst in NHL history. No Capital can wear No. 99, either, since the league put that number on ice in 1999 to honor Wayne Gretzky’s retirement.
DC United No jerseys have yet been retired from the team.
Baltimore Orioles Neither players nor coaches can ever again wear Earl Weaver’s No. 4, Brooks Robinson’s No. 5, Cal Ripken’s No. 8, Frank Robinson’s No. 20, Jim Palmer’s No. 22, or Eddie Murray’s No. 33. And by a league rule put in place in 1997, nobody in Major League Baseball can be issued Jackie Robinson’s No. 42.
Baltimore Ravens The Ravens have no retired jerseys. Baltimore Colts hero Johnny Unitas is in the ring of honor in Ravens Stadium, and the team wore No. 19 on its helmets last season to honor the quarterback and oft-acknowledged greatest football player of all time, who died in the fall. But Unitas’ number is still free to be had by any player who wants it. Saddest case: Scott Mitchell, a punch line of a quarterback, wore No. 19 when he played in Baltimore in 1999.
Washington Senators The longest-running and most beloved version of the Senators had 16 Hall of Famers, but that team never retired a number while in Washington. (Walter Johnson played before numbers were issued but wore No. 28 and No. 25 while managing the team after retirement.) Harmon Killebrew’s No. 3 was later retired by the Minnesota Twins long after the move north. The hapless second version of the Senators (1961-1971) had no Hall of Famers and no retired numbers—though the team the expansion Senators later became, the Texas Rangers, has retired Nolan Ryan’s No. 30. The possible third go-round of the Senators, known for now as the Montreal Expos, has retired two numbers, but to honor three players: Gary Carter’s No. 8 and the No. 10 worn first by Rusty Staub and then by Andre Dawson.
University of Maryland Men’s lacrosse has retired one jersey: Frank Urso’s No. 21. The football team has retired Bob Ward’s No. 28, Jack Scarbath’s No. 62, and Randy White’s No. 94. Women’s basketball has three numbers under wraps: Jasmina Perozic’s No. 4, Vicky Bullett’s No. 23, and Tara Heiss’ No. 44.The storied men’s basketball program doesn’t officially retire numbers, but the following jerseys are hanging high at the new arena: Bosey Berger’s No. 6, Gene Shue’s No. 25, Tom McMillen’s No. 54, Len Elmore’s No. 41, John Lucas’ No. 15, Albert King’s No. 55, Buck Williams’ No. 52, Len Bias’ No. 34, Walt Williams’ No. 42, Joe Smith’s No. 32, Keith Booth’s No. 22, Juan Dixon’s No. 3, Lonny Baxter’s No. 35, and the No. 3 shirt of Steve Francis, who played but one season in College Park. Must be a recruiting thing.
Georgetown University Football player Joe Eacobacci’s No. 35 is the only jersey ever retired at the school. Eacobacci played linebacker from 1992 to 1995 and was captain of the team for his senior season. After graduation, he took a job in New York with Cantor Fitzgerald and was killed in the World Trade Center attacks of Sept. 11. His jersey was retired before the 2002 season. Despite the school’s rich hoops history, no Hoya basketball players have been so honored. Allen Iverson’s No. 3, in fact, is now worn by reserve forward Omari Faulkner.
American University Only two Eagles have had their jerseys retired. Soccer player Michael Brady’s No. 14 was taken out of commission after he was named national player of the year in 1985 and captained the school to a berth in the NCAA championship game that same year—an eight-overtime, 1-0 loss to UCLA, the longest game in college soccer history. (Shootouts were put in place for tournament games before the next season.) Brady now coaches women’s soccer at American. The No. 23 shirt worn by Kermit Washington, the only All-American basketball player in school history and a guy best known for throwing the punch that almost killed Rudy Tomjanovich in 1977, was retired in 1980. The shirt was hung to the rafters at Bender Arena for the first time only two weeks ago.
George Washington University No GW athlete has ever had his number retired. What about Red Auerbach’s No. 22? “We’ve talked about retiring jerseys before,” says a spokesperson for the school’s athletic department. “But, once you start, where do you draw the line?” Presumably somewhere before Yinka Dare’s number comes up. —Dave McKenna