15 Athletes Whose Numbers Were Unretired
Right now, the New York Yankees swear that—out of respect for Reggie Jackson—you’ll never see another Bronx Bomber with a navy blue “44” sewn upon his pinstriped back. That's just one of the numbers retired for the ball club but, nevertheless, this honored sum just might come back into circulation one day. As these guys can attest, it’s certainly happened before.
1. FRANK TRIPUCKA
Position/Team: Quarterback, Denver Broncos (NFL)
“His” Number: 18
The Most Recent Owner: Peyton Manning
After Denver acquired Manning's talents in 2012, casual fans everywhere learned that the number he’d worn for fourteen seasons with the Indianapolis Colts had been long retired in Denver. Decades earlier, fellow quarterback Frank Tripucka guided the Broncos through their first four (rather rocky) campaigns. To reward such service, Mile High rosters went eighteen-less...until Peyton rode into town. “It’s perfectly OK for him to go ahead and use it,” said Tripucka, “I would be honored to have him wear it.”
2. GARY CARTER
Position/Team: Catcher, Montreal Expos (Major League Baseball)
“His” Number: 8
The Most Recent Owners: Marlon Anderson (2006), Chris Snelling (2007), Aaron Boone (2008), Jorge Padilla (2009), and Danny Espinosa (2012-2014)
3. STEVE LARGENT
Position/Team: Wide Receiver, Seattle Seahawks (NFL)
“His” Number: 80
The Most Recent Owner: Jerry Rice
Rice signed with the ‘Hawks in 2004. What followed was an odd chain of events that Largent finally divulged ten years later. “The Seahawks,” he explained to NBCSN, “at the time had a President of the team [named Bob Whitsitt] who...called me saying that Jerry [Rice] wanted to wear number 80 but wanted to ask my permission”.
At this point, for reasons unknown, Whitsitt changed his story. “[He then] called Jerry Rice and said, ‘Hey, Steve Largent wants you to wear his jersey when you get to Seattle.’ So Jerry said, ‘Well that’s fine, I’ll wear number 80, I thought it was retired but if Steve wants me to wear it, I’ll wear it.’”
4. AUBREY VICTOR “DIT” CLAPPER
Position/Team: Right Winger and Defenceman, Boston Bruins (NHL)
“His” Number: 5
The Most Recent Owner: Guy Lapointe
Lapointe was loathe to part with the number he’d brandished while winning multiple Stanley Cups as a Montreal Canadien. Although five had been set aside to commemorate Bruins great Dit Clapper, Boston’s brass threw him that bone anyway. Uproar ensued—one reporter even accused the team of “robbing the grave” and “defiling a decent man who entered the Hall of Fame through the front door.” Ultimately, Lapointe had to take the ice as number twenty-seven.
5. WARD CUFF
Position/Team: Halfback and Kicker, New York Giants (NFL)
“His” Number: 14
The Most Recent Owner: Y.A. Tittle
When the Giants acquired Tittle in 1961, he requested fourteen, which had supposedly been laid to rest on Cuff’s behalf by owner Wellington Mara during the mid-1940s. It was unretired for Tittle, but it's now off-limits and honors both G-Men.
6. BILLY CUNNINGHAM
Position/Team: Forward and Center, Philadelphia 76ers (NBA)
“His” Number: 32
The Most Recent Owner: Charles Barkley
On November 7th, 1991, Earvin “Magic” Johnson stunned the world by announcing that he’d become HIV positive. To show solidarity with the Laker great, Sir Charles rocked Johnson’s 32 during his final season as a Sixer—after getting Cunningham’s blessing, of course.
7. WAYNE MAKI
Position/Team: Left Wing, Vancouver Canucks (NHL)
“His” Number: 11
The Most Recent Owner: Mark Messier
Some say the Canucks cursed themselves by giving away a number that had last been worn by a 30-year-old player who perished in a car accident. Their failure to contact Maki’s family beforehand threw salt on the open wound, and Vancouver never reached the playoffs with Messier. Since then, they've kept 11 firmly off-limits.
8. LUIS APARICIO
Position/Team: Shortstop, Chicago White Sox (Major League Baseball)
“His” Number: 11
The Most Recent Owner: Omar Vizquel
Aparicio was MLB’s first Venezuelan Hall of Famer. As an homage, Vizguel—a fellow Tierra de Gracia native—copied the great shortstop’s uniform. He did so with Aparicio's blessing. "If there is one player who I would like to see wear my uniform number with the White Sox," he said, "it is Omar Vizquel."
9. WILLIAM HERSHBERGER
Position/Team: Catcher, Cincinnati Reds (Major League Baseball)
“His” Number: 5
The Most Recent Owner: Johnny Bench
Hershberger committed suicide months before Cincinnati won its second World Series. His number was made off limits, but it was again made available in the midst of World War II. Many men donned it, including “Red Machine” legend Johnny Bench, whose stellar career ensured that five stayed unused after his retirement.
10. PERVIS ATKINS
Position/Team: Running Back and Tight End, New Mexico State Aggies (NCAA Football)
“His” Number: 27
The Most Recent Owner: NMSU President Gary Carruthers
The school’s 27th President, Carruthers was presented with a jersey featuring Atkins’ old number, which had been officially unretired on his behalf. “If anyone deserves to wear it, it’s President Carruthers,” said Atkins.
11. JOHN RIGGINS
Position/Team: Running Back, Kansas Jayhawks (NCAA Football)
“His” Number: 32
The Most Recent Owners: Various KU Players
Riggins’ off-field conduct may have been what drove Jayhawks brass to put 32 back into play. During an exchange at an affair at the Washington Press Club with Sandra Day O’Connor, the Supreme Court’s first female justice, he infamously jeered, “come on, loosen up, Sandy baby, you’re too tight."
12. BOBBY HULL
Position/Team: Left Wing, Winnipeg Jets (NHL)
“His” Number: 9
The Most Recent Owner: Brett Hull
For Brett Hull, taking on dad’s number was “an honor.” Manitoba’s original Jets are now the Arizona Coyotes. Back in their Canadian years, his father, Bobby, was among the most talented players this club had ever seen. 2005 saw free agency land Brett in Phoenix and, for the occasion, he continued a family tradition. “I want Bret Hull to have as much fun wearing No. 9 as I… [did] when I played with Winnipeg,” Bobby declared.
13. LARRY AURIE
Position/Team: Right Wing, Detroit Red Wings (NHL)
“His” Number: 6
The Most Recent Owner: Cummy Burton
The fact that Aurie’s jersey isn’t hanging from the rafters in Hockey Town’s Joe Louis Arena has really raised some eyebrows. It was retired in 1939, but, back then, the practice of raising it from the rafters wasn't common. In any event Aurie’s nephew, Burton, had no trouble slapping a six on his jersey.
14. MICHAEL JORDAN
Position/Team: Shooting Guard, Chicago Bulls (NBA)
“His” Number: 23
The Most Recent Owner: Michael Jordan
MJ got one heck of a sendoff in 1994. When “His Airness” decided to swap sports and take a swing at baseball, Chicago threw him a star-studded retirement party. During the ceremony, his iconic 23 was officially laid to rest, never to be worn by another Bull.
What happened next is common knowledge. Jordan’s anemic baseball skills became a national joke and, in 1995, he hung up his cleats. Amidst his NBA return, however, the hoops hero’s number was upgraded. Alas, 45 didn’t bring Air Jordan much luck, as Orlando embarrassed Chi-Town in game one of their ’95 Eastern Conference Semifinals showdown. Hoping to turn the tide, Jordan dug up his old jersey and brought 23 back from the dead. Though this stunt cost the Bulls a whopping $100,000, MJ was formally given his original number back that summer.
15. GERALD FORD (1913-2006)
Position/Team: Center, Michigan Wolverines (NCAA Football)
“His” Number: 48
The Most Recent Owner: Desmond Morgan
Our 38th President helped UMich snag back-to-back national championships in 1932 and 1933. Over sixty years later, Michigan supposedly “retired” Ford’s 38, which now belongs to linebacker Desmond Morgan. Ex-coach Brady Hoake claimed that the commander-in-chief’s loved ones fully supported this decision.