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Monday, August 15, 2011

Debating Retired Numbers for the Eagles

On Saturday, Joe DeCamara of 97.5 The Fanatic brought up the fact that new Eagles receiver Steve Smith will be wearing number 19 this season as opposed to his customary number 12 that he wore as a Giant. DeCamara suspected that this was due to the fact that Randall Cunningham wore number 12 as an Eagle, and though the number hadn’t been retired it had been “taken out of circulation.” The talk show host seemed to agree with this move, and, if I remember correctly, supported the notion that Cunningham’s number should be retired.

It was a great topic for sports talk on a slow Saturday, and I just wanted to throw my two cents out there.

I totally disagree that Cunningham’s number should be retired. In fact, I don’t really think it’s even debatable. A lot of callers into the show seemed to talk about some of the outstanding plays and games that Cunningham had in his career as support for retiring his number. I loved Cunningham as a kid, and certainly got caught up in the highlights of the guy Sports Illustrated dubbed “The Ultimate Weapon.”

Unfortunately, they never got to call him a “Super Bowl Champion” or even a “winner” because he was neither. Cunningham won exactly one playoff game as an Eagle. One. That’s a joke for a guy who played with a dominating defense. Yes, he was handcuffed by a lack of coaching for most, if not all, of his Eagles career, but that career can only be judged by the results. (What he or anyone else did for other teams is irrelevant in my opinion when discussing retiring a number for a particular team.)

DeCamara bemoaned the fact that so much emphasis is put on winning when judging a quarterback, but that’s just reality. The most damning argument I can make against Cunningham is that the minute the Eagles looked to be in trouble in a big game he checked out. My brother, a Cowboys fan, used to point it out all the time. “Uh, there it is. Randall’s puss face.” Infuriating because it was true. He was down, and the game was over. We saw it with the inside out Eagles jacket, him sitting by himself, the hoodie over his head, and a demeanor that could absolutely be read right through the television.

Bottom line, Cunningham didn’t win.

Quite frankly, I think support for retiring Cunningham’s number is a classic example of Philadelphia fans becoming too provincial and lowering the bar on ourselves. We love to talk about what tough fans we are, yet can’t wait to deify mediocrity. Buddy Ryan’s legendary status in this town is another example.

Remember, football in particular requires, or should require, a very heavy standard for retiring numerous. Quarterbacks traditionally only wear numbers 1 through 19. Wide receivers essentially use 80 through 89, though numbers 10 through 19 are also worn by receivers. (See here for the rules according to Wikepedia.) There’s just not enough numbers with a 45-man roster to haphazardly retire numbers.

Emotion has already shelved some classic numbers for the Eagles. Here’s my thoughts on some modern candidates or recipients of the honor of having their number retired:

• If Jerome Brown hadn’t died young, his number 99 wouldn’t be retired. Players hated owner Norman Braman at the time, and there was really no way to reject the pressure retire his number. At first the players wanted a patch with his number on the uniform; then it had to be re-done because it wasn’t big enough. It was all about the emotion of the moment. He only played 5 seasons, and had 29.5 sacks. For that, the number 99 is shelved forever?

• Reggie White is almost impossible to argue against. The sack numbers are unbelievable, and there were games he seemed to just take over. Yet, he won his Super Bowl with the Packers, and I believe he only registered one playoff victory with the Eagles. The defense from that era is thought to be one of the best ever, but it certainly never carried a big time playoff win. Now that his number is already retired there’s no way to argue that it should be revoked, but I thought it was a little hasty after his death.

• Anyone who has ever read my posts on Donovan McNabb knows I’d never retire his number. Yes, I’m sure the stats are there and some will talk about his longevity, though considering injury and the lack of guts from the coach to move on makes even that argument questionable. Plus, his stats are inflated by the pass happy offense he played under. I think it probably will happen, and the symbolism of immortalizing the guy who literally yakked up the Eagles’ opportunity to win the Super Bowl will be lost on many.

• Brian Westbrook played 8 seasons in Philadelphia, which surprised me a bit. The seemingly frequent injuries in the later years almost makes it seem like his time was cut short (shorter?) by injury. I’d say yes to retiring his number 36, but I wouldn’t put up a huge fight with naysayers.

• Most Eagles fans wouldn’t dream of not retiring Brian Dawkins’ number 20, and considering his personal relationship with Jeff Lurie and his wife, it’s a done deal. As I’ve gotten older, I buy into the emotional rantings of players, which is a big part of why Dawkins is beloved – he showed emotion all the time. It’s hard to quantify leadership, and that makes me hesitate on Dawkins. But, I do wonder how far the defense that Dawkins lead could have gone with some better offensive play calling on the other side of the ball to help them out. I could go either way on retiring his number.

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