Column: Redskins need to stop playing numbers games

The Redskins have been criticized for a great many sins on and off the field since Dan Snyder took over as owner in 1999. But there’s at least one that predates his stewardship.

In the 82-year history of the Washington Redskins, the team has retired only one jersey number: Sammy Baugh’s No. 33. Yet, the jersey numbers of 11 players — including Hall-of-Famers from the glory years like Darrell Green (28), Art Monk (81) and John Riggins (44) — have been taken out of circulation and are absolutely not for use by present-day players.

This is a ridiculous practice, and the Redskins are far from the only team that does this so I’m not necessarily singling them out. If someone has been so important to your franchise that no one on the team should wear their jersey number again, that number should be retired. Have a full-on ceremony and give the player his day in the sun. But just leaving a number in purgatory is lazy and pointless.

Since Sean Taylor’s tragic death in 2007, no one has worn his No. 21, though the jersey number is neither retired nor officially out of circulation. The first real discussion of someone wearing that number came earlier this month when new Redskins safety Landon Collins, who idolizes Taylor, signed with Washington having worn No. 26 in college and No. 21 in the pros — just like Taylor.


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But the team announced that won’t happen in Washington, with Collins issued No. 20, just as fellow Taylor disciple HaHa Clinton-Dix was last season. Personally, I would have liked to see Collins be the first to don the No. 21.

I recognize I’m in the minority here, but Taylor’s jersey has no business being retired. Yes, he was a special talent and must-see TV for anyone who likes watching a hard-hitting safety do his thing. But Taylor wore three different jersey numbers in Washington — which averages out to one for each full season he played on some mediocre-to-bad Redskins teams. When taken into context of the franchise’s storied history, that doesn’t necessarily warrant permanent enshrinement.

That’s the added layer to the tragedy of Taylor’s senseless murder — we’ll never know how good he could have been. He was certainly trending toward becoming the best safety in football, a perennial All-Pro and a cinch Hall-of-Famer. But as we learned with RG3, a small sample size can’t just be extrapolated into a full career.

Thus, if we judge Taylor’s accomplishments for what they are, rather than what they could/should have been, it’s difficult to conclude that his number should never be worn by another Redskins player.

This is especially true of this franchise — the one that was last to integrate in the 1960s, got Hall of Fame production from their first black player (Bobby Mitchell), spent decades overlooking and disrespecting him, and topped it all off by issuing his hallowed No. 49 to a practice squad scrub.

In 1994, Leonard Marshall, a former New York Giants pass rusher who won two Super Bowls at the Redskins’ expense, wore Sam Huff’s No. 70 in his one and only season in Washington. This is not a franchise known for holding the jersey numbers of their most culturally important and iconic players sacred.

If anything, it would be a fitting tribute to Taylor’s legacy if perhaps his best protégé gets to wear his jersey number with the team for which he played. To do so at the point in life we lost Taylor would be a beautifully symbolic passing of the torch to the next generation of Redskins greats.

But the Redskins continue to do what they tend to when faced with a difficult decision — straddle the fence and wait until a situation becomes a full-blown mess before truly addressing it.

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