The Importance of a Number in the NFL


Dayna O’Gorman
Senior NFL Reporter

By Dayna O’Gorman // @DaynaOG

New Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy isn’t happy with his old team. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers gave his number, 93, away. And to not just some random rookie, but to Ndamukong Suh, his replacement. McCoy didn’t take it well.

“As far as signing him, organizations have to do what they have to do when you let a player of my caliber go, so I understand that,” McCoy said. “But as far as giving away my number, in the history of the Bucs, they have a ring of honor, and all of the greatest players in the organization usually get their numbers retired.”

“Them giving the number away, that’s their prerogative, but the respect they showed. It would be different if it was a guy who signed four or five years. This is a one-year deal … I mean, it may seem like it’s just a number, but it’s bigger than that. It’s respect, and that was a big part of the separation between me and Tampa, period, was the respect they showed to me all offseason, it just wasn’t there.”

We know how important numbers can be to a player. Many have the same number from pee wee football through their professional careers. Other pay tens of thousands of dollars to teammates when they go to a new team and want a specific number. Front offices often respect that, and yet there are only so many numbers to go around.

Take the case of running back Marshawn Lynch. When he “retired” from the Seattle Seahawks, no player wore his number for two full years. The first season after cornerback Richard Sherman left, the number 25 was untouched. When they did use the numbers again, they were for young players who played different positions. The Seahawks aren’t the only team that realizes what these numbers mean to not just the players but the fans, and many tread carefully around it.

So the question this brings up is this. Were the Buccaneers trying to send McCoy a message, and if they were, what was it? That he wasn’t important to the team? I mean… they did cut him after all. And does McCoy have the right to be upset with Buccaneers for giving his number away so quickly? I mean… McCoy did go to a division rival with a serious chip on his shoulder.

Breakups are difficult and messy, even in football. I’m not sure teams and players “owe” each other anything, but it’s nice when things can end well. It doesn’t sound like it has for McCoy and Tampa Bay.

What are your thoughts? Is it disrespectful for teams to give away numbers too soon? I have a feeling fans would be split on it.

Follow Dayna on Twitter // @DaynaOG
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