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NFL Retired Numbers, Player Deaths, and the Stories Behind Them

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.

Franchise
Player
Number
Pos
AV
First Yr
Last Yr
Arizona CardinalsJ.V. Cain88TE-WR2119741977
Arizona CardinalsMarshall Goldberg99B019391948
Arizona CardinalsStan Mauldin77T019461948
Arizona CardinalsPat Tillman40DB1619982001
Arizona CardinalsLarry Wilson8DB9619601972
Atlanta FalconsWilliam Andrews31RB6819791986
Atlanta FalconsSteve Bartkowski10QB7019751985
Atlanta FalconsTommy Nobis60LB6319661976
Atlanta FalconsJeff Van Note57C-G-LB7719691986
Baltimore RavensNone
Buffalo BillsJim Kelly12QB10319861996
Carolina PanthersSam Mills51LB10019951997
Chicago BearsDick Butkus51LB9719651973
Chicago BearsWillie Galimore28HB3419571963
Chicago BearsBill George61LB-G-MG-DT13219521965
Chicago BearsRed Grange77HB-BB-DB-TB019251934
Chicago BearsGeorge Halas7E019201928
Chicago BearsBill Hewitt56E-DE019321936
Chicago BearsSid Luckman42QB-HB-DB119391950
Chicago BearsGeorge McAfee5HB-DB819401950
Chicago BearsBronko Nagurski3FB-LB-T019301943
Chicago BearsWalter Payton34RB12819751987
Chicago BearsBrian Piccolo41RB719661969
Chicago BearsGale Sayers40RB5419651971
Chicago BearsBulldog Turner66C-T-LB-G2019401952
Cincinnati BengalsBob Johnson54C5719681979
Cleveland BrownsJim Brown32FB10619571965
Cleveland BrownsDon Fleming46DB1919601962
Cleveland BrownsOtto Graham14QB-DB8419461955
Cleveland BrownsLou Groza76T-C-DT-K10019461967
Cleveland BrownsErnie Davis45RB019621962
Dallas CowboysNone
Denver BroncosJohn Elway7QB13819831998
Denver BroncosFloyd Little44RB7119671975
Detroit LionsLem Barney20DB11119671977
Detroit LionsDutch Clark7TB-DB019311938
Detroit LionsChuck Hughes85WR719701971
Detroit LionsBobby Layne22QB10719501958
Detroit LionsBarry Sanders20RB12219891998
Detroit LionsJoe Schmidt56LB11919531965
Detroit LionsBilly Sims20RB5819801984
Detroit LionsDoak Walker37HB-DB5819501955
Green Bay PackersTony Canadeo3HB-TB-FB-DB1819411952
Green Bay PackersDon Hutson14E-DB-DE019351945
Green Bay PackersRay Nitschke66LB10219581972
Green Bay PackersBart Starr15QB10019561971
Green Bay PackersReggie White92DE-DT16319931998
Houston TexansNone
Indianapolis ColtsRaymond Berry82E10219551967
Indianapolis ColtsArt Donovan70DT-T8819531961
Indianapolis ColtsPeyton Manning18QB16519982011
Indianapolis ColtsGino Marchetti89DE-T-DT12119531966
Indianapolis ColtsLenny Moore24HB-FL9619561967
Indianapolis ColtsJim Parker77T-G10219571967
Indianapolis ColtsJohnny Unitas19QB14119561972
Indianapolis ColtsBuddy Young22HB-FB-DB3019531955
Jacksonville JaguarsNone
Kansas City ChiefsBobby Bell78LB-DE10519631974
Kansas City ChiefsBuck Buchanan86DT10119631975
Kansas City ChiefsLen Dawson16QB10019621975
Kansas City ChiefsAbner Haynes28HB3619601964
Kansas City ChiefsMack Lee Hill36FB-HB1319641965
Kansas City ChiefsWillie Lanier63LB9919671977
Kansas City ChiefsJan Stenerud3K819671979
Kansas City ChiefsDerrick Thomas58LB10619891999
Kansas City ChiefsEmmitt Thomas18DB7819661978
Kansas City ChiefsStone Johnson33HB-KR019631963
Miami DolphinsLarry Csonka39RB7219681979
Miami DolphinsBob Griese12QB10519671980
Miami DolphinsDan Marino13QB14619831999
Minnesota VikingsCris Carter80WR9819902001
Minnesota VikingsJim Marshall70DE10719611979
Minnesota VikingsAlan Page88DT15719671978
Minnesota VikingsKorey Stringer77T4519952000
Minnesota VikingsFran Tarkenton10QB13919611978
Minnesota VikingsMick Tingelhoff53C10219621978
New England PatriotsBruce Armstrong78T-G8719872000
New England PatriotsGino Cappelletti20FL-SE-DB-WR-K4119601970
New England PatriotsBob Dee89DE-DT4719601967
New England PatriotsJohn Hannah73G10619731985
New England PatriotsMike Haynes40DB10919761982
New England PatriotsJim Hunt79DT-DE4719601970
New England PatriotsSteve Nelson57LB7019741987
New Orleans SaintsDoug Atkins81DE12019671969
New Orleans SaintsJim Taylor31FB7019671967
New York GiantsAl Blozis32T019421944
New York GiantsCharlie Conerly42QB7619481961
New York GiantsRay Flaherty1E-DE019281935
New York GiantsFrank Gifford16HB-FL-DB-WR8819521964
New York GiantsMel Hein7C-LB019311945
New York GiantsTuffy Leemans4FB-TB-DB-QB019361943
New York GiantsJoe Morrison40HB-FL-FB4219591972
New York GiantsPhil Simms11QB9119791993
New York GiantsKen Strong50FB-TB-HB-WB-DB-K019331947
New York GiantsLawrence Taylor56LB13919811993
New York GiantsY.A. Tittle14QB11219611964
New York JetsDennis Byrd90DT-DE1919891992
New York JetsJoe Klecko73DT-NT-DE7619771987
New York JetsCurtis Martin28RB10019982005
New York JetsDon Maynard13E-FL-HB7019601972
New York JetsJoe Namath12QB9019651976
Oakland RaidersNone
Philadelphia EaglesChuck Bednarik60LB-C13319491962
Philadelphia EaglesTom Brookshier40DB5619531961
Philadelphia EaglesJerome Brown99DT4819871991
Philadelphia EaglesBrian Dawkins20DB10119962008
Philadelphia EaglesPete Retzlaff44E-HB-TE7119561966
Philadelphia EaglesSteve Van Buren15HB1219441951
Philadelphia EaglesReggie White92DE-DT16319851992
Philadelphia EaglesAl Wistert70T-G-DT2419431951
Pittsburgh SteelersErnie Stautner70DT-DE-G11219501963
San Diego ChargersLance Alworth19FL-WR7819621970
San Diego ChargersDan Fouts14QB12219731987
San Diego ChargersJunior Seau55LB12519902002
San Francisco 49ersJohn Brodie12QB8819571973
San Francisco 49ersDwight Clark87WR6119791987
San Francisco 49ersJimmy Johnson37DB-HB10819611976
San Francisco 49ersCharlie Krueger70DT-DE7919591973
San Francisco 49ersRonnie Lott42DB11719811990
San Francisco 49ersHugh McElhenny39HB8819521960
San Francisco 49ersJoe Montana16QB12319791992
San Francisco 49ersLeo Nomellini73DT-T11619501963
San Francisco 49ersJoe Perry34FB7519481963
San Francisco 49ersJerry Rice80WR16019852000
San Francisco 49ersBob St. Clair79T8019531963
San Francisco 49ersSteve Young8QB13519871999
Seattle SeahawksFans (12th man)12
Seattle SeahawksWalter Jones71T9619972008
Seattle SeahawksCortez Kennedy96DT9719902000
Seattle SeahawksSteve Largent80WR10319761989
St. Louis RamsIsaac Bruce80WR10219942007
St. Louis RamsEric Dickerson29RB9119831987
St. Louis RamsMarshall Faulk28RB13319992005
St. Louis RamsDeacon Jones75DE11219611971
St. Louis RamsMerlin Olsen74DT13919621976
St. Louis RamsJackie Slater78T-G9319761995
St. Louis RamsBob Waterfield7QB3519451952
St. Louis RamsJack Youngblood85DE12219711984
Tampa Bay BuccaneersLee Roy Selmon63DE-DT8119761984
Tennessee TitansElvin Bethea65DE8919681983
Tennessee TitansEarl Campbell34RB6819781984
Tennessee TitansBruce Matthews74G-C-T12119832001
Tennessee TitansWarren Moon1QB11919841993
Tennessee TitansMike Munchak63G8419821993
Tennessee TitansJim Norton43DB-P4419601968
Washington RedskinsSammy Baugh33QB-TB1819371952


Some notes:

  • 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.
  • Pat Tillman.

    Pat Tillman.

  • 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.

Player
Age
Position
Team
Cause of death
Year
O.J. Murdock25WRTennessee Titanssuicide2012
Jovan Belcher25LBKansas City Chiefssuicide2012
Jerry Brown25LBDallas Cowboyscar accident2012
Kenny McKinley23WRDenver Broncossuicide2010
Gaines Adams26DEChicago Bearscardiac arrest2010
Marquis Cooper26LBOakland Raiderslost at sea2009
Corey Smith29DEDetroit Lionslost at sea2009
Chris Henry26WRCincinnati Bengalsroad accident2009
Sean Taylor24FSWashington Redskinshomicide2007
Marquise Hill24DENew England Patriotsdrowned2007
Damien Nash24RBDenver Broncoscardiac failure2007
Darrent Williams24CBDenver Broncoshomicide2007
Marcus Cassel23DBCarolina Pantherscar accident2006
Thomas Herrion23GSan Francisco 49ersIschaemic heart disease2005
Pat Tillman27LBArizona Cardinalskilled by friendly fire in duty in Afghanistan2004
Korey Stringer27OTMinnesota Vikingsheat stroke during practice2001
Eric Turner31DBOakland Raidersstomach cancer2000
Derrick Thomas33LBKansas City Chiefspulmonary embolism following injuries sustained in a car accident2000
Fred Lane24RBCarolina Panthershomicide2000
Brandon Burlsworth22OLIndianapolis Coltscar accident1999
Leon Bender22DTOakland Raidersseizure1998
Rodney Culver26RBSan Diego Chargersplane crash1996
David Griggs28LBSan Diego Chargerscar accident1995
Dave Waymer34DBLos Angeles Raidersheart attack1993
Jeff Alm25DTHouston Oilerssuicide1993
Jerome Brown27DTPhiladelphia Eaglescar accident1992
Shane Curry24DLIndianapolis Coltshomicide1992
Eric Andolsek25OGDetroit Lionscar accident1992
Fred Washington23DTChicago Bearscar accident1990
Stacey Toran27DBLos Angeles Raiderscar accident1989
Brad Beckman24TEAtlanta Falconscar accident1989
Ralph Norwood23OTAtlanta Falconscar accident1989
David Croudip30DBAtlanta Falconsdrug overdose1988
Don Rogers23FSCleveland Brownsdrug overdose1986
Ricky Bell29RBSan Diego Chargerscomplications of dermatomyositis1984
David Overstreet25RBMiami Dolphinscar accident1984
Kirk Collins25CBLos Angeles Ramsesophageal cancer1984
Larry Gordon28LBMiami Dolphinsheart attack1983
Joe Delaney24RBKansas City Chiefsdrowned1983
Rusty Chambers22LBMiami Dolphinscar accident1981
J.V. Cain28TESt. Louis Cardinalsheart attack1979
Troy Archer24DENew York Giantscar accident1979
Andy Spiva24LBAtlanta Falconscar accident1979
Blenda Gay26DEPhiladelphia Eagleshomicide1976
Jim Duncan26DBBaltimore Coltssuicide1972
Chuck Hughes28WRDetroit Lionscardiac arrest (in-game)1971
Roger Hagberg31TEOakland Raiders (AFL)car accident1970
Brian Piccolo26FBChicago Bearscancer1970
Bob Kalsu25OLBuffalo Bills (AFL)killed in Vietnam War1970
Frank Buncom29LBCincinnati Bengals (AFL)blood clot1969
Bruce McLenna26FBKansas City Chiefs (AFL)died in highway accident1968
Ron Rector24RBAtlanta Falconsmotorcycle accident1968
Mack Lee Hill25FBKansas City Chiefs (AFL)pulmonary embolism1965
Terry Dillon22DBMinnesota Vikingsdrowned1964
Lucien Reeberg21OTDetroit Lionsheart attack1964
Bo Farrington28TEChicago Bearscar accident1964
Willie Galimore29RBChicago Bearscar accident1964
Gene Lipscomb31DTPittsburgh Steelersdrug overdose1963
Stone Johnson23RBKansas City Chiefs neck injury (in-game)1963††
Ernie Davis23RBCleveland Brownsleukemia1963†
Don Fleming25DBCleveland Brownsaccidental electrocution1963
Bob Laraba28LBSan Diego Chargers car accident1962
Howard Glenn26OGNew York Titansneck injury (in-game)1960
Ralph Anderson24WRLos Angeles Chargers diabetic reaction1960
Dave Sparks26DTWashington Redskinsheart attack1954
Stan Mauldin27TChicago Cardinalsheart attack1948
Jeff Burkett26PChicago Cardinals plane crash1947
Al Blozis26OTNew York Giantskilled in World War II1945
Jack Lummus29EndNew York Giantskilled in World War II1945
  1. 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. []

{ 11 comments… add one }

  • Kibbles February 7, 2013, 10:44 am

    Speaking of the Saints being weird, did anyone else notice that Sam Mills had his number retired… by the Panthers and not the Saints?

    I also saw Reggie White had his number retired by both GB and Philly. Any other 2-team stars had their number retired twice? Any other 2 team stars had their number retired by the team for which they accrued less AV, but not the team for which they accrued more?

  • Kibbles February 7, 2013, 10:49 am

    A quick check reveals there aren’t any other Whites out there, which makes him an interesting trivia question. Don’t know if there were any other Millses, though.

  • Richie February 7, 2013, 3:00 pm

    I noticed retired numbers on PFR the other day. Is that a new feature?

  • Richie February 7, 2013, 3:02 pm

    I can’t get the AV sort to work properly. Anybody else?

    • Chase Stuart February 7, 2013, 3:19 pm

      It works now.

      The problem was the Seattle Seahawks retiring the #12 jersey for the fans. I put in “–” in the cells for AV, year, etc., and the table does not sort properly if you have non-numeric information. Blank spaces are fine, though, so I put blank spaces in those cells.

      To be clear, the blame here lies with the Seahawks for retiring the #12 jersey, and not with me for putting dashes in the cells.

      • Richie February 7, 2013, 3:39 pm

        Sweet.

        The Colts retired Manning’s jersey already? That’s lame. It should be “unofficially” retired until he is done playing. Just seems wrong to be celebrating a guy like that while he is still the “enemy”.

        I’m ashamed that the Dolphins have only retired offensive players. (Though proud that they’ve shown restraint and only retired 3 jerseys.) But maybe Jason Taylor and/or Zach Thomas will change that. They are ranked #2 and #3 career AV for Dolphins.

        • Malcolm February 7, 2013, 10:02 pm

          It is unofficially retired. However once the second he is done it will be retired.

          So many just recognize it as retired.

  • Richie February 7, 2013, 3:06 pm

    The Broncos retired Frank Tripucka’s number 18

    LOL. I guess he had a couple of good seasons, but I assume his number was retired based on him being their first QB? That would be like the Texans retiring David Carr’s jersey. Although Carr only threw 3.1 interceptions per attempt for Houston while Tripucka threw 6.7!

    • Kibbles February 7, 2013, 10:22 pm

      I keenly recall the game Tripucka threw 20 passes for 201 yards with 2 TDs and 134 INTs.

      Also, in Tripucka’s defense, he was also an assistant coach (he was originally hired as a coach, actually, but the options at QB were so putrid they put him on the field). He also made the pro bowl once, led the league in passing twice, and he holds the distinction of being the first pro QB to throw for 3,000 yards (a feat made far less impressive by the fact that 7 years later, Namath would break 4k). Yes, he got his number retired for being the first Bronco, and for being something of a draw for a struggling franchise, but he was no David Carr.

  • Richie February 7, 2013, 3:35 pm

    1963-1964 was a rough stretch. 4 players died each year – at a time when there were only 22 teams. The only other time there were 4 deaths in a year was 2007 – when there were 32 teams.

  • willgfass February 7, 2013, 6:52 pm

    It would seem remiss if no one mentioned that the first major sports team to ever retire a number was the New York Giants with Ray Flaherty (rather appropriate number 1).

    It also seems why the Giants have retired so many numbers which seems why Strahan will never get his number officially retired despite being extremely deserving.

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