Before I even start, let me clear that this article is just pondering a question. I'm not in any way, shape, form, or fashion saying that Auburn should un-retire the legendary numbers 7, 88, or 34 in football. Quite the opposite if you read all the way to the end. However, the fact that Syracuse did got me to thinking about the question.
Syracuse recently announced that it would be bringing back the #44 jersey to the football field. A number worn by Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, and Floyd Little. The writers at Troy Nunes Is A Magician (or at least the writer in that linked article) is a fan of it. He equates the Syracuse #44 to Texas A&M's 12th Man.
The move is not without precedent. Michigan is probably the most well-known team for bringing back retired jersey numbers with Devin Gardner being awarded the #98 for Michigan legend Tom Harmon back in 2013. Similar to Syracuse's approach, the number is awarded as a special honor, not given out at random or just because a player WANTS to wear it.
One famous former Syracuse Orangeman, however, did not care for it at all. Former Syracuse QB Donovan McNabb took to Twitter to express his displeasure with it all.
It bothers me to see the decision being made by my alma mater to u retire the legendary 44. The great RBs who wore the number put SU on the— Donovan McNabb (@donovanjmcnabb) May 20, 2015
Map. What message are we sending across college football and to the football world that it's ok to un retire such history that was so strong— Donovan McNabb (@donovanjmcnabb) May 20, 2015
That a movie was made about one of our great RBs in Ernie Davis. No one should be rewarded in wearing that number. Do u see other schools— Donovan McNabb (@donovanjmcnabb) May 20, 2015
Taking numbers down from the raffters for any reason at all. I think it is totally disrespectful to those who have worn it and for those who— Donovan McNabb (@donovanjmcnabb) May 20, 2015
Who wore the mighty Blue and Orange. It was retired in 05 for a reason. Which it should have been done along time before then.— Donovan McNabb (@donovanjmcnabb) May 20, 2015
Syracuse's situation is a bit different from most schools who retire a number. For Auburn #7 is Pat Sullivan, #88 is Terry Beasley, and #34 is Bo Jackson. For Syracuse, the number represents a few former greats. There have been plenty who wonder when or if Auburn will retire #2 for Cam Newton. Particularly after he returned to the school and earned his degree this Spring.
It takes very special feats for a player's number to be retired in college football. Unlike the NFL with it's 53 man roster limits or other sports with far fewer players, college football can have more players on the team than there are roster spots once you include walk-ons. This inevitably leads to duplicate numbers. This is further exacerbated with every number you retire, which is one reason why it doesn't happen very often.
Why Would You Un-Retire a Number?
Auburn currently has twelve duplicate numbers on the roster. NCAA rules allow this as long as the players aren't on the field at the same time. This is rarely an issue, although at the end of the 2014 South Carolina game, the Tigers had both WR D'haquille Williams on the field as an DB in a Hail Mary situation while DT Montravius Adams was on the field on the defensive line. The officials missed the call, and Auburn won the game.
It's rare for the penalty to occur, and teams usually have measures in place to ensure it never happens. When it does, it is normally on a play such as the one referenced above or on a special teams play. However, it does happen.
Would un-retiring numbers change that? No, you're still going to get duplicate numbers. Auburn currently has three numbers retired, only 1/4 of the duplicates. So this is not an effective argument for un-retiring numbers.
Auburn loves to refer to itself as Running Back U. Would it entice a star running back to come to the Plains if they were told there was a chance they could earn the right to earn the #34? Possibly. 17-18 year old kids are swayed by the smallest things.
But would it be worth it? I don't really think so. #34 is Bo Jackson. Again, this is not like Syracuse's situation where the number is associated with a few players. Others wore the #34 before Bo did, but when it comes to Auburn football, that #34 is Bo. His records may fall (Mike Dyer, Tre Mason), but it will take a lot before any Auburn running back could become so beloved by Auburn players as Bo Jackson.
Why then? If his records can be broken, what makes Bo and the #34 so special? Because Bo came along at the right time, possibly. He was the legend who spurned Alabama telling him he would ride the bench. He leapt over the top to end the losing streak against Alabama. Bo Jackson and Pat Dye are the face of those Auburn teams who brought the Tigers out of the doldrums of the late 70s and into the "Modern Era" of Auburn football.
When it comes to the #7 and #88, we're now almost fifty years from the age of Sullivan To Beasley. I seriously doubt high school quarterbacks or receivers would be swayed to come to Auburn with the opportunity to earn the #7 or #88.
So Should We?
Personally, I don't believe Auburn should un-retire those old numbers. They are associated forever with the legends of Auburn football who wore them. However, Cam Newton's #2 is a different story.
It is not officially retired, although no Auburn player has worn it since Aaron Savage, who played alongside Cam. Could it be retired in the future? That is possible. But it's not, now.
Should it be? I would not complain if it was. However, I could also so it becoming a number similar to Syracuse's #44. Award it to a special QB who has earned the right to wear it. Rather than retire it, it could live on.
I see a very similar situation possible with Philip Lutzenkirchen's #43. That number should be awarded to a special player who exemplifies what it means to be an Auburn Man.
Auburn football history is filled with legendary players whose numbers are not retired. There simply aren't enough numbers to allow for that to happen. But there could be a way to honor those players who have special meaning to us all. Retire the #2 as a Heisman Trophy and National Championship winner (among numerous other accolades) if you will. Keep the #43 alive and let Lutzie's legacy live on. This is essentially the exact same argument Clint Richardson made shortly following Lutzie's tragic death.
Honoring the greats is something we should most definitely make it a point to do. However, I think at Auburn we should let past honors stand. Let new traditions arise as and when they will, but to me the #7, #88, and #34 should never be worn again.
UPDATE: Strange coincidence that I publish this on the anniversary of retiring Pat Sullivan and Terry Beasley's numbers.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">5/20/1972: At halftime of the A-Day game Auburn retires the # 7 jersey of Pat Sullivan & the # 88 of Terry Beasley. <a href="http://t.co/1YC37mQGFa">pic.twitter.com/1YC37mQGFa</a></p>— Jordan-Hare (@AU_History) <a href="https://twitter.com/AU_History/status/601040996370100224">May 20, 2015</a></blockquote>
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