Not everyone agrees with William Gildea that the best way to honor those who have contributed to the history of a sports franchise is to retire their jersey numbers [Sports, Dec. 22].

Al Davis, owner of the Oakland Raiders, always has maintained that the best way to honor legends is to allow their numbers to be passed on. Instead of mounting the jerseys of Hall of Famers Fred Biletnikoff and Willie Brown and championship quarterback Ken Stabler on a wall, their uniforms live on in the contributions of Charlie Garner, Charles Woodson and Rich Gannon, respectively, to this era of Raider football.

And the case can be made that by keeping the numbers of legends alive, the sense of a team's history is deepened for current players and fans. Many of the numbers Mr. Gildea proposed be retired from the Redskins are from players probably long forgotten. Hardly any Raider fan has, as an example, missed the connection between Ken Stabler and Rich Gannon -- a connection that will be further solidified should Oakland make it to the Super Bowl.

An athlete wearing a revered number in any sport also wants to be worthy of the number. For all the hockey players who wanted to wear No. 9, aspiring to be Bobby Orr, or for Mario Lemieux wearing 66 as a nod to Wayne Gretsky; for every kid who thought that all quarterbacks wore number 12, since Joe Namath, Bob Griese and Terry Bradshaw did, isn't keeping the history of a number, and thus of a team, vibrant and alive a better tribute to legends than calcifying and ultimately forgetting them?

DAVID L. GORDON

Annandale