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A Tradition of Numbers

After Braylon Edwards stated yesterday in an ESPN chat that Rich Rodriguez had decided to give the #1 jersey to an incoming freshman - who wasn't a wide receiver (and later clarified on the Mike Tirico Show that it is in fact a defensive back - people are telling me it's JT Floyd), Michigan fans seemed to be clearly split on the issue.
Jared Kent West Union IA: What are your thoughts on the new MICHIGAN regime.
Braylon Edwards: I am already mad that Rich Rod because he gave the No.1 jersey to someone other than a WR, which is breaking tradition. But I think he is a great coach and will lead Michigan to a turnaround.
It is important to note here that Braylon is throwing his support behind Rodriguez, and it is merely one issue that the two disagree on (no pun intended). Braylon even said on the Tirico show that he planned to call Rodriguez and voice his displeasure/suggestion.

Background on the #1
Who has worn the jersey before? Paul Goebel wore it waaay back in the day (when "wide receivers" didn't exist - he was a "forward pass receiving end" on offense), and since then, fellow Wolverines Anthony Carter, Derrick Alexander, David Terrell, and Braylon Edwards have followed in Goebel's footsteps and earned All-American honors.

Until his junior year, Edwards wore the #80 jersey. He believed that, as a very good receiver, he should be able to wear the #1. When Edwards approached Lloyd Carr with this request, he was told that he would have to earn the number. Braylon, who had previously had a reputation as a less-than-stellar effort player and far from a workout warrior, put in the time in the weight room, and became the player that Carr believed he could be. The motivational tactic paid off, and Lloyd gave Braylon the #1 jersey. Stellar junior and senior years showed that he had indeed learned his lesson, and made him into the #3 overall pick in the NFL draft. It is plain to see why the #1 holds a special place in Braylon's heart.

Upon his graduation, Braylon began to establish what has become a fairly robust charity, known as the Braylon Edwards Foundation. Since Edwards was told by Lloyd he had to earn the right to wear the #1 jersey at Michigan, the number meant something special. As part of the BEF, Edwards endowed a scholarship for the wearer of the #1 jersey at Michigan:
The Scholarship Endowment for the University of Michigan's No. 1 football jersey was announced in April 2006. The charitable gift provides support to a student/athlete wearing the No. 1 football jersey. The scholarship endowment will recognize future athletes who demonstrate character and commitment both on and off the field. Athletes wearing the No. 1 jersey are selected by U-M's coaching staff.
When he gave the original endowment, Edwards undoubtedly believed that the tradition of #1 going to a wide receiver would be continued. Rich Rodriguez was either unaware of this, or didn't care about it.

The #1 should go to whomever asks for it
This camp of fans believes that Michigan should not reserve the #1 jersey for anything special, and that any player who asks for it should receive the uno. Since nobody had to earn the jersey before Braylon, there was no real tradition before him, despite the illustrious gentlemen who preceded him.

Since Rodriguez and his staff are trying to turn around a program that has been slowly slipping from the forefront of American consciousness, they should reserve the right to do whatever they so choose with any number. They will be able to establish their own traditions.

The #1 should be reserved
This bloc wants the #1 to continue being something special, going to any transcendent Michigan receiver. While a defensive back may want the jersey, he should be told that he is out of luck, and to pick a different number. Tradition is one of the aspects that sets college football apart from almost every other sport, and even if one does not exist yet (as those other fans suggest), it should be established.

My Take
I believe, in this particular instance and overall, that the #1 jersey should be reserved for a wide receiver. Braylon has expressed displeasure with granting it to a different position, and what is the benefit of alienating one of the highest-profile Wolverines in the NFL (arguably 2nd behind Tom Brady)? Overall, I think that establishing traditions like reserving #1 for a great wide receiver, or #2 for a great defensive back (which has not been done, but I think should be in honor of Woodson) can only help the program. It can restore some mystique that has perhaps been lost from the Michigan program, and can be used as a major recruiting tool.

This also leads me to the topic of retiring numbers. I think it is appropriate for Michael Jordan's number to be retired from the Chicago Bulls, and certainly for Jackie Robinson's #42 to be retired throughout baseball. However, I think that college sports are not served by retiring numbers. Establishing tradition and continuing said traditions (as mentioned above) give personality to schools like Michigan (whose prestige is largely based upon tradition), and can help with recruiting, as players undoubtedly believe they can carry on the tradition (or at least want to try). While the Wistert Brothers did great things at the University of Michigan, it may be disrespectful to prevent anyone from trying to follow in their tradition. And what high-profile running back recruit wouldn't want to follow in the footsteps of Old 98 (which would be an awesome number for a tailback to have in the modern game).

In the end, I guess I'm a traditionalist (whether that be continuing old ones, starting new ones, or supporting fledgling ones). Leave the #1 to a wide receiver. As someone said to me yesterday, "Keeping and establishing traditions cost nothing. Eliminating them can destroy your program."

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“A Tradition of Numbers”

  1. Anonymous formerlyanonymous Says:

    I think the #1/#2 suggestion is definitely intriguing. If anything, I'd like defense to be open to any position on its respective side of the ball outside of the line. If we have some monster linebacker, I wouldn't be opposed to them receiving #2 (note: crable would not be good enough). The whole "prove you deserve this number" mantra not only provides the tradition of the number, but helps push people to really go out and improve their game.

  2. Blogger Bob Says:

    Tim,
    I got your comment on my post and agree with point as well. First off it's a shame I didn't know Tom Harmon wore #98. I also didn't know it's the only retired number. I agree with you that recruits want to wear #1 or #2, but there also needs to be some type of acknowledgement for the player who made that number famous. Maybe a Wall of Fame? I bet today's recruit doesn't even know who AC is. It also needs to be in the stadium - enough of us don't make it to Schembechler hall.

  3. Blogger Tim Says:

    Bob,
    It's not the only retired number (#11 worn by the Wistert brothers, and I think one or two more), but it is indeed retired.

    Honestly, I don't care if a recruit knows who Carter is if the mystique of the #1 (whether Carter started it or not) makes the kid want to go to Michigan.

  4. Blogger Bob Says:

    I agree with that. There is room for Braylon and AC with the #1. I just think there needs to be some type of respect given to AC for being the one that started it. Same for Desmond and Woodson. For some reason, I don't feel the #21 has gotten as much attention as #1 or #2 from incoming recruits etc. Duke Basketball retires numbers every 10 minutes. :-) Ok, you have convinced me that we shouldn't retire the numbers but I still think we should do something to remember at least the Heisman winners in the stadium.

  5. Blogger Max Says:

    I'm far from a Michigan football historian, but everything I've read on blogs so far on this issue has featured at least one or two factual errors ranging from minor to critical.

    Obviously being an 18 year-old student at the University of Michigan, I don't (and never will) know what the discussions were in the coaches' offices regarding the #1 jersey, but here's what I can gather from some quick research:

    The #1 jersey has only recently been exclusive to wide receivers
    While (as you mentioned) the "wide receiver" position has not always been a distinction in college football and this skews the headlining point, it is nonetheless the case that the first "wide receiver" to wear the #1 was Anthony Carter. Before him, #1s included defensive backs, place kickers, and halfbacks. So, we can pinpoint 1979, Anthony Carter's first year, as the outset of this tradition.

    The #1 jersey was not given out based on merit until Braylon Edwards' junior year
    This is only speculation, as I cannot be sure of how numbers are given out on the team. However, what I can be sure of is that Braylon Edwards was one of only two #1 wide receivers to have not worn the #1 since his freshman year. The other was Derrick Alexander, who began wearing the jersey at the outset of his sophomore year, after having only recorded 6 receptions the previous year (he would go on to have a lackluster sophomore campaign as well). Again, I may be off base, but how could every single other wide receiver in this group, albeit a decorated one, have made enough of an impression before even stepping on the field for a game that they "earned" the #1? It seems very unlikely. Add to it the fact that not all #1-wearers have had illustrious careers (certainly not illustrious years in every season that they donned the #1), and the idea of a meritocracy seems less and less likely. Furthermore, one #1 wearer, Tyrone Butterfield, barely even saw the field of play as a Wolverine - recording 4 career receptions in addition to kick-return duty.

    All-Time Wide Receiver #1s
    Anthony Carter (1979-1982), Greg McMurtry (1986-1989), Derrick Alexander (1990-1993)*, Tyrone Butterfield (1994-1996), David Terrell (1998-2000), Braylon Edwards (2003-2004).

    *I don't know exactly what the deal was with Alexander. He wore #40 as a freshman, wore #1 as a sophomore, did not letter his junior year, and then went on to wear #1 in what are listed (In the Bentley Historical Library) as his two senior years.



    To wrap it up, let me just say that I'm a huge proponent of the #1 jersey being reserved for worthy wide receivers. When I first did the above research (upon reading several months ago that Darryl Stonum had been promised the #1), I was extremely disappointed to find out that the distinction of wearing the #1 wasn't all I had thought it was. I hope Rich Rod takes Braylon's comments to heart and helps the #1 become an even more decorated legacy.

    Also, there's been a lot of talk about retired numbers in the comments. Here they are:
    # 11 - Francis Wistert, 1931-33, tackle, All-Am. 1933
    Albert Wistert, 1940-42, tackle. All-Am. 1942
    Alvin Wistert, 1947-49, tackle, All-Am. 1948, 1949
    # 47 - Bennie Oosterbaan, 1925-27, end,
    All-Am. 1925-26-27
    # 48 - Gerald Ford, 1932-34, center
    # 87 - Ron Kramer, 1954-56, end, All-Am. 1955, 1956
    # 98 - Tom Harmon, 1938-40, halfback, All-Am. 1939-40,
    Heisman Trophy winner 1940


    I hope all this is of some value.

  6. Blogger Tim Says:

    Thanks a ton Max, lots of good info there.

    I think few people will try to contend that the #1 jersey is a storied tradition at the university of Michigan, but (like I said), there can only be benefit from building the tradition into something moe concrete down the road.

  7. Blogger Tim Says:

    By the way, Alexander was injured in the first game of his junior season against BC. He redshirted that year, then played his fourth and fifth years.

  8. Anonymous Anonymous Says:

    Glad to see you Michigan guys got it all figured out up there. Whats it gonna take 2, 3 years before Rich Rod turns you into a total laughing stock? Thank God the Browns saved Braylon and got him out of Michigan. Go Browns and Go Buckeyes. CUNext Tuesday!!

  9. Blogger Tim Says:

    I hope, for Ohio's sake, that you are no older than 12. Otherwise, well that's just embarrassing.