Responding to a string of controversies since last spring, Washington Redskins officials are planning to unofficially retire the jersey numbers of their greatest players. The team's new plan, if implemented, would resemble the system used by a former Redskins equipment manager, who refused to hand out certain numbers that weren't retired.
The issue was raised again on Friday with the retirement of Hall of Fame member Bobby Mitchell as the Redskins' assistant general manager. Mitchell said upon his departure after 41 years with the organization that he was "deeply hurt" when the team allowed tight end Leonard Stephens to wear his No. 49 this past season. Coach Steve Spurrier said that he and other club officials had made a mistake that would not be repeated.
Last year, Spurrier briefly approved quarterback Shane Matthews's decision to wear No. 9, which was worn by Hall of Fame quarterback Sonny Jurgensen. Matthews telephoned Jurgensen to get his approval, but eventually changed his mind and switched to No. 6 after club officials convinced him that he didn't need the headaches that would come with wearing Jurgensen's number. Fellow Redskins quarterback Danny Wuerffel wore No. 7, the number once worn by quarterback Joe Theismann, for a few offseason practices, but quickly switched to No. 17.
The Redskins have only one officially retired number, Sammy Baugh's No. 33, but avoided such controversies during the tenure of former equipment manager Jay Brunetti, who had a list of unofficially retired numbers that he would not allow players to wear. Brunetti was dismissed by then-coach Marty Schottenheimer and now works for the Houston Texans.
Redskins officials are in the early stages of drawing up a new list of numbers to be kept on the shelf, sources said yesterday. It is unclear whether the list will be made public. One of the advantages to retiring the numbers unofficially is to avoid having some players feel slighted if they're not included.
Theismann's No. 7, Jurgensen's No. 9 and Mitchell's No. 49 likely will be on the list, sources said, along with Charley Taylor's No. 42, Larry Brown's No. 43, John Riggins's No. 44, Sam Huff's No. 70 and Art Monk's No. 81. Darrell Green's No. 28 also would likely be on the list if the Redskins don't officially retire his number next season. The cornerback retired following the just-completed season after 20 years with the team. Other numbers could be included.
Redskins Note: Negotiations on a contract extension with Daryl Gardener remain at a standstill, but the Redskins continue to have discussions with another defensive lineman eligible for unrestricted free agency in March, Carl Powell. Agent Jerrold Colton said yesterday that a deal between Powell and the Redskins is within reach.