The Washington Redskins’ two biggest additions this offseason led to celebrations, high-fives and hope. These additions also led to a big debate about the numbers they would wear for a simple reason: Both wore jersey numbers that have been taken out of circulation by the organization.
The latest flap was resolved thanks to quarterback Joe Theismann, who granted first-round pick Dwayne Haskins permission to wear the No. 7 he made famous during the early 1980s. After all, Theismann was the Redskins’ first Super Bowl-winning quarterback. He’s the all-time winningest quarterback in Washington, too. In fact, he’s the only Redskin to ever wear the number.
And Wednesday, he told 106.7 The Fan that he gave permission for Haskins to wear the No. 7. Yes, the organization left the decision to Theismann.
Earlier this offseason, the talk was about safety Landon Collins and the No. 21. It’s what Collins wore with the New York Giants — and he did so to honor someone who once played for the Redskins: Sean Taylor. But Collins won’t be wearing the No. 21 this season; instead, he’ll wear No. 20, and that’s probably a good thing. Taylor still evokes strong emotions even 11-plus years after his death.
Theismann’s number was taken out of commission by former Redskins equipment manager Jay Brunetti, now with the San Francisco 49ers. Brunetti spent 26 years with the Redskins and worked for the team during the Super Bowl runs before leaving after the 2000 season.
There are two schools of thought: The young guys should prove themselves first rather than worrying about any brand; earn your standing. The flip side: At what point does a player’s “right” to a number end? How many do you keep out of circulation and why?
Theismann was an excellent player and continues to be a good ambassador. He was tough and respected and remains the only Redskins quarterback to play in two Super Bowls. But he wasn’t a Hall of Famer. Yet one of his blockers did make the Hall of Fame — Russ Grimm. And his number, 68, has subsequently been worn by seven players. Another ex-Hog, Joe Jacoby, has been a Hall of Fame finalist. Eight others have worn his No. 66.
Brian Mitchell, considered one of the best return men in history, won a Super Bowl and played 10 seasons with Washington. His No. 30 has been worn by eight others. Maybe the Redskins could put a patch somewhere on the jersey and include the names of the famous players who wore it in the past. Create a legacy.
Sonny Jurgensen is the only Redskin to wear the No. 9 and no one has worn No. 44 since John Riggins retired. Darrell Green’s No. 28 and Art Monk’s No. 81 also remain unused. All four are in the Hall of Fame.
The only retired Redskins number belongs to Sammy Baugh (33). Hall of Famer Charley Taylor’s 42 hasn’t been worn since he stopped playing in 1977. But, shockingly, Bobby Mitchell’s 49 was worn by one other player — a tight end named Leonard Stephens who lasted one season with Washington. If a number worn by Mitchell, the first African-American in franchise history and a Hall of Famer, can be worn, then it’s hard to keep others out of circulation.
The 1970s and ’80s were by far the Redskins’ best decades. The emotional tug to that successful era remains strong. It sustains a generation.
There have been excellent players in the past 20 years — Clinton Portis is No. 2 on the team’s all-time rushing list behind Riggins. The player after Portis? Larry Brown, whose No. 43 hasn’t been worn since he stopped playing in 1976. Meanwhile, Portis’ No. 26 was worn the next season. Adrian Peterson wears it now, mainly because the number he made famous in Minnesota — 28 — wasn’t an option.
Too often the past couple decades have been spent recalling the glory days. But here’s what the Redskins need: players who make the numbers they’re wearing now sacred. But for those numbers to resonate, they need to win. That’s what Haskins must do. In the end, it’s the name they’ll remember — not the number.