Retiring Jerseys

9/24/2012

‘Bama doesn’t do it. Notre Dame doesn’t do it. OU doesn’t do it. And for 85 years, neither did we.

Earl Campbell’s number 20 jersey was retired in 1979, breaking UT’s long-standing tradition of not retiring player numbers. In October 2010, Colt McCoy became the sixth player in Texas football history—joining Campbell, Ricky Williams, Tommy Nobis, Vince Young, and Bobby Layne--to have his jersey retired. A two-time Heisman finalist, Colt won the Walter Camp Award twice and the Maxwell Award once, in 09. He led the ‘Horns to an undefeated season and the National Championship game against Alabama. He won the AT&T, the O’Brien, the Manning, the Unitas Golden Arm awards, and was a finalist for any collegiate offensive award you can name. He is the winningest quarterback in NCAA history, is smart, funny, and lives out his faith every day. He’s the guy all dads want their daughters to marry.

The question is not whether Colt—or any of the other guys—is deserving; it’s whether UT should play that game at all.

We are The by-gosh University of Texas. We are the second-winningest program in the history of NCAA football. We land one of the nation’s top recruiting classes every year. Don’t we expect our players to win national awards? We have Heisman Trophy winners, national award winners, 3-time all-Americans. In addition to the 6 players whose jerseys are no longer available, UT has 9 other “national award” winners. If we start retiring all those jerseys, we won’t be able to field a team. We’ll run out of numbers.

Darrell Royal was opposed to retiring jersey numbers. He told his players, “If you want to celebrate in the end zone, wait for the other 10 players to get there, ‘cause you didn’t do it all by yourself.” If football is “the ultimate team sport,” why retire an individual’s jersey? Not one of those fellows “did it by himself.”

No number has been so revered—or so feared—as the burnt-orange number 60. Worn by four consensus all-Americans--Johnny Treadwell (’62), Tommy Nobis (’65), Jeff Leiding (’83), and Britt Hager (’90)--number 60 came to represent the best tooth-jarring defenses UT has fielded. The jersey was handed out sparingly, sometimes as an award, occasionally as an incentive. There was lots of honor and lots of pressure associated with wearing that jersey. But no more.

And what of the little boys who grew up dreaming of  wearing number 20 or number 12 or number 60 for the Longhorns? Tough luck.

Where do we stop? And will triple digits fit on the jerseys?