The Redskins recently retired just the second number in franchise history the other day, meaning no other player will wear No. 49 in Washington. Bobby Mitchell received this rare honor just months after he died on Apr. 5. The star flanker once shared a backfield with the legendary Jim Brown on the Cleveland Browns before coming to Washington, where he led the league in receiving yards in each of his first two seasons with the Redskins.
Mitchell was the first Black player on the team when he joined in 1962, long after the rest of the league had integrated. With the increased activity in the Black Lives Matter movement in recent weeks, the Redskins have been making several PR moves. Mitchell retired over 50 years ago, and was well-worthy of having his number retired before then. It’s no coincidence that the decision to retire it comes now, amidst the current unrest in the nation. But I digress.
Prior to the official announcement, Mitchell’s No. 49, like several other notable numbers, had been unofficially put out of commission. Nobody had worn Joe Theismann’s No. 7 until Dwayne Haskins received permission to from Theismann himself. Adrian Peterson wore No. 28 with the Minnesota Vikings for a decade, but upon joining the Redskins was effectively barred from his normal number. No one has touched Darrell Green’s No. 28 since the Hall of Fame corner retired in 2002.
Just one player has worn No. 49 with the Redskins since Mitchell retired: Leonard Stephens, a tight end who totaled one reception for 13 yards across five games with Washington in 2002. Aside from that, Mitchell’s number has been unused.
Sammy Baugh was the only player whose number was officially retired prior to Mitchell. No. 33 revolutionized the passing game, played in the other two phases of the game (as a defensive back and punter), and won two NFL championships.
For 2020 onward, No. 33 and 49 are officially off-limits in Washington. There have been calls for the Redskins to give several other players the honor off having their numbers retired officially, and whether the franchise refuses to comply or decides to wait a fair amount of time before retiring another (no need to piggyback on the late Mitchell’s moment; it should resonate as long as it needs to), there are only a handful of numbers and players that should even be considered.
In my eyes, there are only seven other numbers that the team should even consider retiring, and that even seems like too many for my taste, but it would be difficult to pick the odd men out when it comes to this group.
To me, retiring a player’s number should be reserved for the absolute best-of-the-best, the players who made a lasting impact on the franchise. The 80 Greatest Redskins list and the Ring of Honor are there for a reason: to honor the franchise’s standout players. However it’s only the truly transcendent talents that should receive the greatest honor of all.
Numbers worthy of consideration
No. 28: Darrell Green, Cornerback (1983-2002)
I’ve stated time and time again how Green is the greatest player in franchise history. For anyone to play in the NFL for 20 seasons is incredible. To do it as a non-quarterback is even rarer, and to remain with one franchise the entire time is just mind-boggling.
Green joined the team at the heels of the franchise’s first Super Bowl, and played a big role in winning the other two. He earned just one AP First Team All-Pro nod, but earned similar recognition from other voters/publications throughout his career. He was one of the greatest corners in league history and a first-ballot Hall of Famer. It would just be wrong for anyone to wear No. 28 in Washington again. Luckily no one has since his retirement, but it should be set in stone.
Green remains an active figure with the team and community, and is the most deserving of this honor.
No. 9: Sonny Jurgensen, Quarterback (1964-74)
Jurgensen, one of the greatest passers of his era, absolutely deserves to have his number retired. He joins Baugh as the only other Redskins’ signal-caller in the Hall of Fame, and while he never led the team to a championship, he did about as much as anyone could ask for.
After a successful stint with the Philadelphia Eagles, succeeding the legendary Norm Van Brocklin at quarterback, Jurgensen was traded to Washington prior to the 1964 season. He made his second Pro Bowl in his first season, and went on to lead the league in passing yards three times over the next 11 years. His 3,747 yards in 1967 broke the single-season he set with the Eagles in 1961, and he also led the league with 31 touchdowns that year, earning him his second career First Team All-Pro selection.
Jurgensen won a championship with the Eagles as a reserve quarterback, and split time with Billy Kilmer at quarterback during the team’s run to Super Bowl VII in 1972 (although he was injured during the playoffs). His 82.6 career passer rating is the best from the “dead ball” era (prior to 1978).
After football, Jurgensen remained involved with the franchise, primarily as a radio analyst, retiring just under a year ago. An underappreciated all-time great, Jurgensen at least deserves the appreciation of having his number officially retired.
No. 44: John Riggins, Running back (1976-85)
Riggo spent the first five years of his career with the New York Jets, but his best years were in Washington, as he continued to produce in his mid-30s, which is incredibly rare for running backs. He eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards four times in Washington, including in back-to-back years in 1983 and ’84, his age 34 and 35 seasons. His 24 rushing touchdowns in 1984 were a single-season record at the time, and he was named First Team All-Pro.
Riggins was also named MVP for the team’s first Super Bowl victory in the 1982 season, carrying the ball 38 times to total a then-Super Bowl record 166 yards on the ground in the 27-17 win. His late-game 43-yard touchdown run on 4th-and-inches remains one of the most iconic plays in franchise history, which includes a nasty stiffarm of Dolphins cornerback Don McNeal.
Riggins holds the franchise records for rushing attempts, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, and his elite play late in his career gave him plenty of league records as the oldest player to achieve certain feats. With 104 career rushing touchdowns, he was just the second player to rush for 100 career touchdowns. The first to do so was Jim Brown.
Riggins was a longtime rushing force for the Redskins; he singlehandedly ran the team to its first Super Bowl title, and he remains a fan favorite long after his playing days have ended. The Hall of Famer meets all the requirements.
No. 21: Sean Taylor, Safety (2004-07)
Taylor was an impact player from the start, grabbing four interceptions as a rookie while defending 15 passes. He quickly developed a reputation as one of the hardest-hitting safeties in the league, capable of creating a game-busting play at any moment. He was voted to the Pro Bowl in his final two seasons, and was posthumously named Second Team All-Pro in 2007, when he was in the midst of a career-year through nine games. The Pro Football Writers Association gave him First Team All-Pro honors that same season.
The only knock is that he was only on the team for four seasons before his death, preventing him from providing a full resume. Presumably, he would have been amongst the best safeties in the league for years to come. Perhaps we can’t say for sure, but looking at his impact on not only the Washington area, but on the next generation of safeties across the league, a number retirement is warranted.
Multiple safeties that have come through the Redskins have idolized Taylor, such as DJ Swearinger, who wore No. 36, Taylor’s rookie number, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Landon Collins, who each donned No. 20 instead of their preferred No. 21. There was speculation that Collins would take No. 21 when he signed with the team in 2019, but he decided to leave it unoccupied. New Redskins safety Sean Davis has also credited Taylor as an inspiration, and that feeling is shared among plenty of defensive backs across the league today.
No one has worn No. 21 with the Redskins since Taylor died, and it should remain that way.
No. 42: Charley Taylor, Wide receiver/Halfback (1964-77)
Charley Taylor (no relation to Sean) was one of the greatest receivers of his generation, and he retired with the career record for receiving yards. He also spent time in the backfield earlier in his career, where he made four straight Pro Bowls in his first four seasons, but later emerged as a top receiver. He made four more consecutive Pro Bowls from 1972-75 playing wide receiver exclusively.
Taylor was selected to five AP All-Pro teams during his career, and he nearly won a Super Bowl with the team in 1972. Taylor’s efforts tend to get lost among the careers of the star receivers that came after him in a more pass-heavy league, but Taylor’s contributions to the game and the Redskins will always be remembered.
He worked as a scout and assistant coach with the team at different points after his retirement, and he still lives in the area. Like most of the others on this list, his number has not been worn by any player on the team since his retirement, so he essentially already holds this honor, but it would be nice to see it officially.
No. 81: Art Monk, Wide receiver (1980-93)
Monk was consistently among the best receivers in the league during the 1980s, and he was a member of all three Super Bowl-winning teams. He holds the franchise record for receptions and receiving yards, and he was the first player to have 900 career receptions, although he achieved that milestone while after leaving Washington at the tail end of his career.
Monk posted over 1,000 yards in a season five times, went to three Pro Bowls, and was a two-time All-Pro. An integral part of the franchise’s history, Monk’s No. 81 is yet another unofficially retired number, so there would not be a noticeable change.
Through multiple quarterback changes, Monk was still able to stake out a featured role in the offense for 14 seasons, and the team would not be the same without him.
No. 7: Joe Theismann, Quarterback (1974-85)
This one’s complicated, as his number is currently in use by the team’s current quarterback, so we’d have to wait a little longer to determine this one for sure. It went unworn until Haskins came around.
Theismann is the only player on this list besides Sean Taylor not in the Hall of Fame, but he is also the only one to have a regular season MVP award under his belt, which he won in 1983. He has the most completions and passing yards in franchise history, and ranks near the top of the other major franchise passing categories, usually behind only Baugh and/or Jurgensen.
He quarterbacked the team to its first Super Bowl, and like his backfield partner Riggins, blossomed later in his career. He passed for over 3,000 yards in each of his final three full seasons (not including the shortened 1982 season and his final season in 1985, when he appeared in just 11 games before sustaining his infamous career-ending injury). His two Pro Bowl appearances came during his age 33 and 34 seasons, as did his MVP and Offensive Player of the Year awards, which both came in the latter year.
Theismann may not boast any major NFL records like many of the others on this list, but when it comes to the Redskins’ franchise, he’s an invaluable piece worthy of recognition. Although if Haskins goes on to have a Hall of Fame-worthy career, they may have to settle for an unprecedented joint-number retirement, although there is a long while before we cross that bridge, if it ever comes to that.
Question Mark: The Hogs
This one is more complicated because it involves multiple offensive linemen, the most prominent being No. 68 Russ Grimm, No. 66 Joe Jacoby and No. 53 Jeff Bostic. None of their numbers have even been unofficially retired, as plenty of players have worn these numbers over the years, but as a group, The Hogs were among the most significant players in franchise history. A number retirement doesn’t appear to be in the cards, but they’re worth mentioning.