In college football, numbers prove to be a limited commodity. With so many players on a roster and only 99 numbers to assign, most teams have some players who have to share numbers. There are just not enough of them to go around. Because of this, many teams do not officially retire numbers. Sure, they may retire a jersey in a ceremony, but in a few years, someone will wear the number again.
However, there are teams that decide it is worth it to retire a number, and in many ways, that can be the highest honor a college team can pay a player. Unlike baseball, where the New York Yankees can retire every single digit jersey and never have to worry, too many retired numbers in a college football program can make coaches, players and equipment managers work hard to get everyone a good number.
With that challenge in mind, should Mississippi State retire jersey numbers of Bulldogs who found football glory, and if so, who would deserve such an honor? It is safe to say that 21 and 36 should not grace a jersey barring a special circumstance. Anytime a player loses his life through accident or illness in a program, that number should be taken out of circulation, even if it is not formally retired. Something about retiring a number in such a situation seems to really miss the purpose of retiring a number, and in it seems to cheapen what happened to the player. A retired number is more about what happens on the field, not off of it, and while taking a number out of circulation and retiring a number do the same thing in all practicality, it is best to keep the two processes separate. It is fitting to remember the player that has died in a way much bigger than taking out a number. A number should be a small part of that, not the whole thing.
I decided to toss the idea out to twitter Thursday night, and I got different responses about the idea of retiring numbers. Some say that there is not much of a point in it because we already do the Ring of Honor, a great and needed addition to Davis Wade Stadium.
So, if Mississippi State made the decision to retire numbers, which players should be candidates for such an honor? While many players may pop to mind, should a player have a number retired because of his status as an all-time great at Mississippi State, or should he have to do more than that? Take a player like Dak Prescott. Barring a major injury or a major unseen regression in play, Prescott will leave Starkville as the best quarterback in the history of the program, but does that make his number retirement worthy? Eric Moulds had a fantastic career at Mississippi State and in the pro ranks, but did what he accomplish make his number retirement worthy?
The fact is that even if Mississippi State decided to retire numbers, there may not be a player in program history, at least in the last fifty years, that would undeniably deserve the honor. Not everyone feels the same way.
@justinrsutton 21 36 53 99, and 15 in a couple of years.— Bulldog Sports Radio (@BulldogsRadio) May 22, 2015
To me, in order for a number to be retired, the player had to make such an impact on a program that no one really would want to wear that number because they would not want to be compared to the player or said to try to be copying the player. Take the Chicago Bulls for example. Why would anyone want to play for Chicago and wear 23? No one would. That is why you retire the number.
Mississippi State has had great players in the past like Johnnie Cooks and D.D. Lewis, but they played so long ago that the meaning of their numbers has vanished.
From where I sit, the only number that could be up for retirement in the next few years is Prescott's No. 15. He is the type of player that has transcended his position, the game and the program. He is the undeniable face of Mississippi State football, and he will leave Starkville having rewritten all of the records and having lead the Bulldogs to one of the top seasons in program history. Can you imagine another player with 15 sitting on his chest? Perhaps it is the closeness of his playing career when compared to players such as Moulds, Cooks, and Lewis, but their numbers do not seem as untouchable as Prescott's. We can imagine players in their numbers because we have seen it. We have not seen it with Prescott.
It is a shame that over the years Mississippi State has not done more to honor its past and past players at Davis Wade Stadium. However, that does not mean the Bulldogs cannot start. Perhaps if Prescott has another fantastic season, his number could be pulled for a few years and then retired to start a new process.