The table below lists every retired number for each of the 32 franchises. It also lists each player’s career AV (starting in 1950), position(s), and years with the team. Each column is sortable, and you can use the search box to search by team (or uniform number, or position, or anything else); you can also change how many rows are shown by clicking on the dropdown box on the left.
- The Ravens, Cowboys, Texans, Jaguars, and Raiders are the only five teams with no retired numbers, although I am sure at least one of those teams will be off this list very soon. Still, don’t expect anyone in Dallas to be wearing #8 (Troy Aikman), #12 (Roger Staubach), or #74 (Bob Lilly) anytime soon. That can lead to situations like #22, which was worn by two Hall of Famers (Bob Hayes and Emmitt Smith and likely no one ever again), or #88, worn by Drew Pearson, Michael Irvin, and now Dez Bryant. Al Davis wasn’t too keen on retiring uniform numbers, but the NFL has made sure that no Raider will ever wear Jim Otto’s number again.
- Seattle is the only team to retire the number twelve to honor its fans.
- The Broncos retired Frank Tripucka’s number 18, but that number has since been unretired. I have a feeling no other Bronco is ever going to wear 18 again, though.
- The Saints are kind of weird. Officially, #31 Jim Taylor (an LSU hero and member of the original Saints) and #81 Doug Atkins (also an original Saint) are the only two players to have their numbers retired, even though neither the Packers nor Bears retired the number of either Hall of Famer. However, Richard Newsome, Aaron Glenn, and Pierson Prioleau have worn 31 in recent years. Similarly, many have worn 81 for the Saints since Atkins, including Michael Higgins last year. Unofficially, no one has worn #8 or #26 since Archie Manning and Deuce McAllister retired, which implies that unofficially retired numbers are more prestigious than officially retired numbers in New Orleans.
- For the Lions, Lem Barney, Billy Sims, and Barry Sanders all wore #20, and all had the number retired. I guess that makes the Lions the Yankees of the NFL, as New York retired #8 to honor both Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra.
- This year, the Jets retired the numbers of Curtis Martin and Dennis Byrd, and Brian Dawkins (Eagles), Cortez Kennedy (Seahawks), and Junior Seau (Chargers) had their numbers retired by their respective teams.
It’s fun to sort the table by things like number (two teams have retired #99) or last year (man George Halas must have known someone in management to get his number retired so quickly). Unfortunately, most of the retired numbers that belong to players with low AV have tragic explanations.
- In Cleveland, Ernie Davis never played a down for the Browns. Davis followed Jim Brown at Syracuse, won the Heisman Trophy in 1961, and was expected to join Brown in the Cleveland backfield in 1962. Instead, Davis died of leukemia before ever playing professional football, and was immortalized in the movie, The Express. Just 17 days after his death, Cleveland defensive back Don Fleming was electrocuted and died moments later. The Browns retired the numbers of both players together.
- Jason Lisk wrote a wonderful article a few years ago titled Gone Too Soon, where he chronicled the tragic deaths of three young Chiefs running backs from Louisiana. Kansas City officially retired the numbers of Stone Johnson and Mack Lee Hill, as both died in the mid-’60s. By the early ’80s, the Chiefs had changed their official policy on retiring numbers, and now only retire numbers if a player makes the Hall of Fame based on his accomplishment as a Chief (you might notice that Kansas City has a lot of retired numbers).
- But for all intents and purposes, Delaney’s #37 is retired. No one has worn it since Delaney, and it seems very unlikely that anyone ever will. He joins a couple of Hall of Famers on the unofficial retired numbers list: Marcus Allen’s #32 was not retired (presumably because he made the Hall of Fame based on his accomplishments as a Raider) but no player has worn that number since Allen retired in 1997. In addition, no one has worn Joe Montana’s #19 since he retired. Then again, that may not even be an official unofficial retired number, if such a concept makes sense. That’s because only one player had ever worn #19 for the Chiefs before Montana: that was Cotton Davidson, who wore #19 from ’60 to ’62. Davidson’s got a funny side story: He played for three franchises and wore #19 all but one year of his career. He wore #19 during his three years with the Chiefs and his six years in Oakland, and he broke into the NFL wearing 19 for the Baltimore Colts in 1954. Davidson was the 5th pick of the 1954 draft, but after a season in the pros, he was drafted and spent three years in the Army. When he returned to the Colts in 1958, his number was taken, so he settled for #18.
- The Bears retired Brian Piccolo’s jersey, and his tragic death was also memorialized in a major motion picture. Detroit’s Chuck Hughes is the only player to die on the field during an NFL game. Chicago’s Willie Galimore and Philadelphia’s Jerome Brown both died in car accidents during the primes of their careers, while J.V. Cain of the Cardinals and Korey Stringer of the Vikings both died during training camp. San Francisco’s Thomas Herrion died following a pre-season game in 2005, and the 49ers have not issued his #72 since. According to David Fucillo of Niners Nation, the team has left his locker at the team’s Santa Clara facility as a memorial to him but the number isn’t officially retired.1
- Dennis Byrd was hit by Scott Mersereau in a game against the Chiefs and suffered a horrific neck injury that left him temporarily paralyzed from the waist down. But less than one year later, he walked to midfield as a Jets captain for the coin toss, and the team renamed the Most Inspiration Player Award the Dennis Byrd award. His number had never been reissued, and then the team officially retired it this season.
- Arizona’s Pat Tillman chose to enlist in the Army following the September 11th attacks, making the honorable choice to give up his professional football career to serve our country. He died on April 22, 2004 in Afghanistan. In addition to received a Silver Star, a Purple Heart, and the Meritorious Service Medal, the Cardinals retired his number 40. Arizona also named the plaza surrounding their University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale Pat Tillman Freedom Plaza and erected a bronze statue in his honor.
Not every player death results in a retired uniform, but that doesn’t lessen the impact in the affected communities. The table below, courtesy of Wikipedia, lists all players who died while being active NFL members. I am sure some of these players (like Cincinnati’s Chris Henry) have their numbers unofficially retired by their teams, as well. In Washington, the Redskins have only retired one number. Therefore, the team never officially retired Sean Taylor’s #21, but when O.J. Atogwe — who wore #21 his entire career — signed with Washington in the 2012 off-season, he switched to #20.
- Fucillo also noted that “The 49ers created the Thomas Herrion Memorial Award. It goes to the rookie or first year player “who best represents the dream of Thomas Herrion. The recipient has taken advantage of every opportunity, turned it into a positive situation and made their dream turn into a reality. The award is voted on by the coaches.” Here is a list of the winners. [↩]