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Posted at 12:43 PM ET, 08/17/2011

Catch-17: Is Doug Williams’ old jersey off limits or not?

Is Doug Williams back on the field for the Redskins? No, that’s just Matt Gutierrez (No. 17). (John McDonnell - THE WASHINGTON POST)
The Redskins have a longstanding policy of unofficial jersey retirement: Only Sammy Baugh’s No. 33 is officially shelved, but numbers 28, 42, 44, and 81 (among several others) don’t get handed out to new players. When Jason Campbell was drafted in 2005, he respectfully asked permission from Super Bowl MVP Doug Williams to wear No. 17, which had at times prior been off-limits, and Williams approved.

Fast forward six years and Campbell is no longer a beacon of hope for this struggling franchise, but another signpost alongside the Redskins’ long road of organizational chaos.

As the epic Rexy-Becksy quarterback battle rages on this summer, there have been a few other quarterbacks in training camp, one of whom is Matt Gutierrez. Gutierrez, a journeyman player who has hung on the fringes of the NFL in recent years, most likely won’t make the opening-day roster. But while he’s working for one more shot in the NFL, Gutierrez is wearing the fabled No. 17.

And so it begs the question: When Doug Williams allowed Jason Cambell to wear his old number, did he mean for the Redskins to let anyone else wear it, too?

It’s something that Redskins brass may want to clarify for themselves.

Let’s rewind nine years to 2002.

Apart from the organizational chaos and the weekly exercises in futility on the field, perhaps the ugliest aspect of Steve Spurrier’s reign of terror was his disregard for team history — in fact it was Danny Wuerffel who first ingloriously un-retired No. 17. But that came only after he wore Joe Theismann’s No. 7 in training camp — and standing alongside him that first summer was Shane Matthews, who wore Sonny Jurgensen’s No. 9 until fan fury prompted him to flip to No. 6.

And if that weren’t enough, Spurrier’s staff passed out the long-dormant No. 49 to Howard alum and journeyman tight end Leonard Stephens.

That was Bobby Mitchell’s number, and Bobby Mitchell wasn’t just anybody. For the man who broke the Redskins' color barrier and went on to a Hall of Fame career, giving No. 49 out again was a slight that ultimately contributed to his resignation from the team’s front office.

If a lesson was learned from that ugly incident, it appears that it may now have been subsequently forgotten (though this isn’t even the first time since Campbell left that No. 17 has been issued). And that these two incidents involve players who shattered racial stereotypes and discriminatory boundaries is surely a terrible coincidence — but a significant one nonetheless.

The handling of retired numbers is often a thorny issue, but the Redskins’ egregious missteps with hallowed jerseys in recent years have repeatedly given the franchise unnecessary black eyes. Williams is still a shining beacon of the organization’s proud past, and if the front office doesn’t wish to tarnish another such legacy — and damage another relationship with a treasured alum — they may want to give Gutierrez another jersey. Quick.

By Aaron Stern  |  12:43 PM ET, 08/17/2011

Tags:  Redskins, Aaron Stern

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