Monday, March 24, 2008

Rush to Retire Brett's #4?

Ryan Wilson, on his AOL Fanhouse blog, cites John Lombardi's question as to why Reggie White had his number retired posthumously, nearly six years after he retired and months after his death. The question asks if there was potentially some sort of conspiracy theory as to why Reggie had to wait, while the Packers appear to be tripping over themselves to honor Favre while he may still be mulling whether he is going actually retire or not.

What could the conspiracies be? Could it be Reggie's persecution for some careless words spoken during a 1998 speech that got him labeled a "racist" and "politically incorrect"? Could it be his stance on homosexuality, which as a Baptist minister, he felt compelled to share with the world? Or, perhaps, even more sinister, could it be that he was black and Favre was white?

All of these ideas are absolutely ridiculous.

Reggie White will go down in history as one of the greatest Packers of all time, enshrined in both the Packer Hall of Fame and in Canton, a wrecking ball on the field and an inspirational leader off the field. But, unlike most of those truly honored by having their number retired by the Packers --Bart Starr, Ray Nitchske, Tony Canadeo, and Don Hutson--Reggie White was not a lifelong Packer.

Furthermore, his most statistically impressive seasons were actually with the Philadelphia Eagles...a team that also elected to retire his number with their team in 2005.

The question isn't whether or not Reggie White compares to Brett Favre, but whether or not Reggie White, bless his soul, deserves to have #92 retired. The idea of being defined as a Packer Forever seems to be a constant with those four, as well as Favre. I remember at one time, there being a public statement that no more numbers would ever be retired for the Green Bay Packers (this was back in the 80's), so I was surprised when a player, great as he was, received the honor when he only played part of his career with the team.

The fact that the Eagles also retired his number is either testament to White's greatness, or a reminder that sometimes retiring numbers is as much a public relations ploy as it is granting an honor.

Brett Favre spent his entire career with the Packers (minus his forgettable rookie season), won a Super Bowl (more than Hutson or Canadeo) and finished statistically on top of nearly every record at his position, as did Don Hutson. Favre's popularity certainly also ranked up there with each of these players, though certainly, the rush of being in five championships has to put Nitschke and Starr on even a higher plane than Favre.

I questioned passing out retired numbers like candy when White's number was retired. Such an honor is limited (you only have so many numbers you can retire). I also questioned Don Majkowski's induction into the Packer Hall of Fame at around the same time, because it seemed to cheapen the honor for others who really deserved it, like Jerry Kramer or Willie Wood, but didn't get a number retired. Majkowski played one good season, and only four seasons in all for the Packers. If you're going to give him a place in the Hall, why not Darrell Thompson? Why not Walter Stanley? Why not Mark Koncar?

Reggie White was a great player. Packer Hall of Fame? Absolutely. Maybe a spot in the Ring of Honor at Lambeau Field. Absolutely. Number retired? Sorry, I don't buy it.

Favre has in his career earned all of those unwritten criteria for having all those things and his number retired. He has the statistics, he has the longevity, he has the popularity, and he has the claim to being a Packer over his entire productive career.

If honoring Reggie White were an equally slam-dunk decision, why did the Eagles wait twelve years after he left the team to retire his number?

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