The long-lasting professional sports tradition of retiring a certain player's number after his career is over is never an exact science. Player's receive this honor for different reasons. Sometimes it's a case of the player's performance on the field, and other times it's a reflection of their value and long tenure with the organization in question. In some unfortunate cases, it's simply because the player passed away at a young age. This all holds true in the NFL, but as is the same with every sport, there are some players who simply do not deserve the distinction of having their number retired. Again, the reasons vary, but throughout the history of retiring numbers in the NFL, there have been some real head-scratchers.
While it's understandable why some players who had hot and cold careers would have their number retired because of their contributions to a team during a successful era, it doesn't mean that it was necessarily warranted. To an objective observer who has no connection with the team, it's easier to see the flaws of these players, and it's worth questioning whether the honor was deserved. In many cases, one can make the argument that it wasn't.
Ranked below are 15 NFL players who never should have had their number retired.
20 Phil Simms
Yes, Simms was the starting QB for the Giants for nearly 15 years, and did win a Super Bowl with them, but he was also painfully average, all things considered. This is evidenced by the fact that he threw almost as many career touchdowns as he did interceptions, combined with horrible completion percentages throughout his career. Simms is one of those QBs who is only noteworthy because he won a Super Bowl, and was just good enough to have a long tenure as a team's starting QB. In retrospect, Bill Parcells was the primary reason for the Giants success during this era, and Simms was just along for the ride. Simms definitely knows the game, and has taken his talents to CBS as a in-game broadcaster, but he wasn't a very good player.
19 Bronko Nagurski
Considering that most fans weren't even alive when Nagurski played in the 1930s, and how different the game was back then, his spot on the list of retired numbers for the Bears almost seems like a waste. Granted, this era of Chicago football was the only one that consistently excelled until they won the Super Bowl in 1985, so it's understandable why they would have nearly half a dozen numbers from this era on the list. Still, a fullback who never exceeded 586 yards rushing in a season seems to be overreaching for historical relevance. One of those selections that's cool if your a Bears fan, but a major question mark to everyone else who watches the league.
18 Warren Moon
While he had some prime years with the Oilers during the first half of his career, Moon is probably more fondly remembered, than he actually was a very good player. His career was above-average but there were plenty of middling seasons inter-mixed with the few great ones. Instead of overseeing mostly great seasons in Houston with the Oilers, Moon was a part of the last gasp of Oilers teams, that ultimately forced the team to be moved to Tennessee. It wasn't a great era for the franchise, and it seems that the feel-good decision to retire Moon's number was a bit questionable. Certainly not a bad player, but definitely not consistent enough to warrant retiring his number based on his play alone.
16 Y.A. Tittle
Another Giants QB, this time from the era of the Kennedy Administration. It's curious as to why the team would retire his number, because he only played four seasons for them. Tittle was the Giants QB from 1961-1964, and had spent the previous 12 years of his career in another uniform. He was a pretty impressive QB for his day, posting stats that most at his position didn't back then, but he still only spent a small fraction of his career with the Giants. Seems like they were trying to take some credit for a player who wasn't really theirs. Regardless, Tittle has his number retired in North Jersey, and not the places where he spent 75% of his career beforehand.
15 Sam Mills
Mills' number is retired by the Panthers, and he only spent three seasons there, at the end of his career. Most of his career was spent with the Saints, and while he put up some very solid seasons, he wasn't a consistent standout. His number is likely retired because he unfortunately passed away in 2005, but it's also strange that he's the only Panther to have ever had this distinction, considering they have been around for around 20 years now. It just seems more likely that Mills would have had his number retired by New Orleans, given his tenure there, and that the first choice for Carolina would have been someone who had spent a bit more time with their franchise. The thought was nice, but from an outsiders standpoint, it probably shouldn't have happened.
14 Joe Greene
Greene's claim to fame has always been the commercial he was in for Coca Cola during the 70s, and not necessarily his play on the field. He was certainly a good player, but when thinking of the best on the Steel Curtain Steelers teams of the decade, he isn't the first one that comes to mind. Even more questionable is that he's only one of two numbers that Pittsburgh has ever retired, and the only member from the Steel Curtain. Certainly players like Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, or Terry Bradshaw are more deserving, at least from a football perspective. From a PR standpoint, Greene probably had them beat, but including him over the aforementioned names is downright odd, and doesn't really speak to the best aspects of that team. The Steelers are usually on point with things like this, but this is a major blunder.
13 Jim Kelly
Kelly having his number retired was inevitable, given he was the starting QB during the infamous four Super Bowl Appearances in a row. But he's been helped out by a great post-career image, and his stats from that era were middling overall. Truthfully, he was never really one of the best of his era, and was assisted by other elite players on those teams such as Andre Reed and Thurman Thomas. By no means was he a poor QB, but having his number retired is more of an appreciation to the entire era of Bills football, than it was to Kelly's individual accomplishments. One can argue the validity of it, but Kelly had flaws as a QB that he was never able to overcome, and the Bills went without a Super Bowl victory in all four of their appearances with him at the helm.
12 Doug Atkins
He was a great defensive lineman in his heyday of the 50s and 60s, but Atkins spent most of his career with the Bears, and it was the Saints who ended up retiring his number. Another decision that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, trying to ignore the fact that the majority of a player's career took place with another franchise. The Saints have been around long enough that they didn't need to claim Atkins as their own, and could have chosen any number of players that had made their name with the team. It just looks cheap, and not really representative of the best that your franchise has to offer. Ultimately, Atkins will always be remembered as a member of the Bears, and the Saints would continue to commit the same mistake with number retirement, as seen in their only other selection...
11 Joe Namath
Okay, it's easy to understand why the Jets would have retired Namath's number, because all things considered he was definitely one of the most popular players in the sport, and the face of their franchise for about a decade. But that doesn't change the fact that he was also one of, if not the most overrated QB of all-time. That's not hyperbole, or the era he played in. He threw more interceptions than touchdowns in 11 of his 13 NFL seasons. I don't care what the game was like when he played, that's objectively bad. Again, it's easy to understand from a PR perspective why the team would do it, and because he's such a personality, but strictly at face value, Namath doesn't deserve to be put on that pedestal. Most seasons, he just wasn't a good QB, and turned the ball over far too much.
10 Jim Taylor
This one is almost inexcusable. Taylor was one of the hallmark players on the great Packers teams of the 60s, and was one of the best rushing threats of his day. He spent all of his career in Green Bay, except for his last season in 1967, as a member of the Saints. Therefor, it's ridiculous that he's not retired as a member of the Packers, and shows just how upside down this process of retiring numbers can be at times. Taylor's one year in Nola paled in comparison to almost anything he did with the Packers, and wasn't representative of his best performances. What's even stranger is that the Packers were somehow okay with this, despite having other players from that era of the team with their numbers retired (namely Bart Starr, deservedly so). Overall, a very odd situation.
9 Dwight Clark
While Clark was certainly an effective receiving tight end for the 49ers dynasty of the 80s, he's really only remembered for one play in the public eye. This was, of course, the throw from Joe Montana to the back of the end zone in the Super Bowl, that's been the subject of many highlight reels over the past 30 years or so. It's not the most egregious decision, and the 49ers certainly haven't been shy about how many players they have with numbers retired (11 total), but Clark doesn't deserve it over a few others that could have made the list. He only had a couple standout seasons, and played well less than 10 years in the league. A very good player, but not one of the level that is typically seen for this kind of honor.
8 Eric Dickerson
Dickerson was probably the best running back in the game for a few years in the 80s, but he always seemed like a faceless star as far as history is concerned. There really isn't a big victory for the Rams at any point during his tenure there, and he never was part of a perennial winner. I do understand the appeal of retiring the number of such a great talent, but if we're looking at it objectively, Dickerson had several all-time great seasons, and then regressed. Not necessarily a flash in the pan, but he definitely wasn't the same player during the back half of his career. Arguments can be made both ways, but from an outside perspective, it seems a little far-fetched to put him up with the all-time greats, even in the history of the Rams.
6 Tom Brookshier
A curious choice for the Eagles as a number retiree, Brookshier was definitely an effective player in the secondary during the 50s and early-60s, but was hardly a hallmark player of the era. He did contribute to the Eagles NFL Championship during the 1960 season, but several other players off of that roster would have been more appropriate for this distinction. Brookshier was a solid talent, and an effective player, but probably didn't stand out enough to make it over the more marquee names for the Eagles during that era. Ultimately, he should have been left out so another more worthy name could have been included. At least he did play all eight of his NFL seasons with the Eagles though, and wasn't a transplant from another team.
3 Donovan McNabb
McNabb had a slightly similar situation in Philadelphia, that Moon did in Houston. His best years for the Eagles culminated in playoff appearances, and stellar numbers, but amidst all of that was a fair bit of turmoil and mediocrity. It's easy in hindsight to consider McNabb an elite QB of his era, but the numbers don't really add up. Factor in controversy with the team and the media, and it's debatable whether he ever should have had his number retired in Philadelphia. In retrospect, this era of the Eagles was carried more heavily by the defense, and by head coach Andy Reid. McNabb was a consistent starter, but rarely elevated his team when it mattered most. It's understandable why his number is retired, but by some criteria he shouldn't have fit the bill.
1 12th Man (Seattle Seahawks Fanbase)
This one is easily the most cringeworthy of any of the listed selections, and shows just how pompous and pandering some franchises can be. The Seahawks elected to retire a jersey for their home fans, commonly self-described as the "12th man", as a nod of appreciation. While this probably goes over well in Seattle, it's seen as incredibly corny by the rest of the league, who has fanbases that are just as loud, dedicated, and pronounced as Seattle's. It's certainly unique, but in the end it's ham-fisted and lame; the equivalent of the cheesiest hallmark card. It's a good ploy to sell tickets by pandering to the buyers, but a laughable display of teary-eyed affection to just about everyone else.
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