All-conference honors, individual awards and the Heisman Trophy are among the most prestigious honors a college football player can receive. Yet there is one honor that is treasured above even those – having your jersey number retired.
That distinction means that you have been so outstanding – either on the playing field, in the community or both – that no other player who comes after should ever wear the number most closely associated with you.
Only 33 players are members of that ultra-exclusive club in the Big Ten. Eight active conference schools have retired at least two numbers while Ohio State has retired the highest number with seven. Meanwhile, four schools – Penn State, Purdue, Northwestern and former conference member Chicago – have never retired jersey numbers.
In the first part of this entry, we dealt with the first half of a list of the players whose numbers have been retired by the various conference schools along with their accomplishments. Here is the second half of that list, going alphabetically by school.
10, Paul Giel – Speaking of guys who did it all, Giel certainly fits the bill. He was a two-time All-American, two-time Big Ten football MVP, a major-league pitcher for five different teams and athletic director at his alma mater from 1971-89. His main claim to fame, however, came on the gridiron in the early 1950s. Giel was a dual-threat quarterback for the Gophers, ending his career with 2,188 yards rushing and 1,922 yards passing. He finished second in the 1953 Heisman Trophy voting, was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1975 and had his number officially retired by Minnesota in 1991.
15, Sandy Stephens – The first African-American to play quarterback for the Gophers, Stephens remains the only QB in program history to lead the Gophers to the Rose Bowl when he did it in back-to-back seasons. In 1960, he helped Minnesota to an 8-2 record and the national championship and finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy balloting. The following season, Stephens was named most valuable player of the Big Ten after leading the Gophers to an 8-2 record, which included a 21-3 Rose Bowl win over UCLA, and a sixth-place finish in the national polls. Stephens had a brief pro career in Canada and earned distinction in later life as a civic leader. He was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame in 1997, and just five months after his death in June 2000, Minnesota retired his jersey number.
54, Bruce Smith – Nicknamed “Boo” because he used to scare the bejesus out of many opponents, Smith is Minnesota’s only Heisman Trophy winner. He captured the 1941 award, culmination of a career that included leading the Gophers to back-to-back national titles in 1940 and ’41. During World War II, Smith became a fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy, and then had a four-year NFL career with Green Bay and Los Angeles. He died of cancer in 1967 at the age of 47 and didn’t get to enjoy the accolades that would come his way. Smith was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1972 and, in June 1977, became the first Minnesota player to have his number retired.
79, Bronislau “Bronko” Nagurski – If ever a name perfectly fit a football player, it would be Bronko Nagurski. At a time when 5-10, 170-pound players were considered for line positions, Nagurski was a bruising 6-2 and 226 pounds. He used that bulk to his advantage, playing tackle on defense and fullback on offense. Nagurski was so good that he made some All-America teams on defense and others on offense. During his three seasons with the Gophers from 1927-29, the team posted a record of 18-4-2 and won the conference title in ’27. Nagurski went on to star for eight seasons in the NFL with the Chicago Bears, and he is a charter member of both the College and Pro Football halls of fame.
22, Les Horvath – Ohio State’s first-ever Heisman Trophy winner, Horvath was supposed to have been done with college football when he was coaxed into playing the 1944 season. Because of World War II, fourth-year players were allowed to compete in intercollegiate sports and Horvath took advantage, helping the Buckeyes to an undefeated season and second-place finish in the national polls. He later had a brief NFL career with the Rams and Browns before becoming a practicing dentist in California. Horvath, who died in 1995, was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1969. Ohio State retired his jersey number in 2001.
27, Eddie George – Style, grace and power were George’s calling cards and he shattered Ohio State’s single-season rushing mark on the way to the 1995 Heisman. That year, he gained 1,927 yards and averaged 5.9 yards per carry and 25.2 carries per game. George was a first-round selection by the Houston Oilers in the 1996 NFL draft and enjoyed a nine-year career with Houston (which later became the Tennessee Titans) and Dallas. He accounted for 10,441 career yards and 78 touchdowns. George, who is now a successful entrepreneur with such diverse business interests as broadcasting, acting, landscaping and restaurants, was honored by OSU in November 2001 when the university retired his number.
31, Vic Janowicz – There was virtually nothing Janowicz couldn’t do on a football field. He was a slashing halfback, a hard-hitting defensive back, a sure-toed kicker and a booming punter for the Buckeyes during the late 1940s and early 1950s. During an 81-23 win over Iowa in 1950, he scored three touchdowns – two rushing and a 61-yard punt return – threw for four scores, recovered two fumbles on defense and kicked 10 extra points. After that season was over, Janowicz won a landslide vote for the Heisman Trophy. A coaching change from Wes Fesler to Woody Hayes in his senior season forced Janowicz to play out of position, but his legacy was already cemented. On Sept. 23, 2000, he became only the second OSU player to have his number retired.
40, Howard “Hopalong” Cassady – Nicknamed after the fictional cowboy of comic books and movies of the 1930s and ’40s, Cassady scored three touchdowns as a freshman in his first college game and never looked back. In 1955, he won one of the most lopsided Heisman votes in history, polling 2,219 points, nearly three times the total of the second-place finisher. Additionally, he set the school’s career scoring record, a mark that held up for more than 30 years. Cassady later enjoyed eight productive years in the NFL with Detroit, Cleveland and Philadelphia, and his son Craig was a starting defensive back for the Buckeyes in 1975. Cassady was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1979 and returned to Columbus from his Florida home in 2000 for ceremonies to retire his number.
45, Archie Griffin – College football’s only two-time Heisman Trophy was fittingly the first Buckeye to have his number retired when athletic director Andy Geiger surprised Griffin at halftime of the Iowa game in 1999. Griffin still holds many of the Ohio State career rushing records more than 30 years after he last donned the Scarlet and Gray. Perhaps the most impressive – four straight seasons leading the team in rushing, 31 consecutive games of 100 yards or more, and 5,589 yards on the ground. George ranks second in all-time rushing more than 1,800 yards behind Griffin. After graduation, Griffin was a first-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals, played seven years in the NFL and then returned to Ohio State to serve in the university’s athletic department for several years. For the past 4½ years, he has been president and CEO of the Ohio State Alumni Association.
47, Chic Harley – If it hadn’t been for Harley, you might never have heard of Archie Griffin … or the Horseshoe … or Woody Hayes. Harley was Ohio State’s first big-time football star, a do-everything performer who took the Buckeyes from a glorified club team to one of the most storied programs in the sport. He burst on the scene as a sophomore in 1916 and spurred OSU to its first conference championship. Three years later – after a year away while serving in World War I – Harley sparked a 13-3 victory over Michigan, the first win for the Buckeyes over their archrivals from the north. After graduating from Ohio State, Harley had a checkered life. He played briefly in the fledgling National Football League and dabbled in other businesses before struggling with bouts of severe depression. He lived most of his later years in an assisted care facility until his death in 1974. Thirty years later, Harley was honored in Ohio Stadium – once known as “The House That Harley Built” – when jersey No. 47 was retired in his honor.
99, Bill Willis – The Columbus native was one of the first African-American stars at Ohio State and later in the NFL. Willis was also one of the first linemen to use quickness and agility to his advantage rather than power and brute strength. He started as a sophomore in 1942 and helped the Buckeyes win the first national championship in their history. Two years later, OSU went undefeated and finished second in the national polls to Army as Willis earned All-America honors blocking for Heisman winner Horvath. After his college career ended, Willis joined the Cleveland Browns and was named All-Pro in each of his eight seasons from 1946-53. In 1971, he was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame and six years later was enshrined in Canton at the Pro Football of Fame. Last November, Willis was the latest to be honored by the university when his jersey number was officially retired. He died 24 days later at the age of 86.
33, Ron Dayne – Dayne was a running back in a offensive lineman’s body. With 260 pounds packed onto a 5-10 frame, he was a nightmare to try to bring down and wound up his career with the Badgers as the all-time leading rusher in NCAA history at the Division I-A level. His 7,125 yards between 1996 and ’99 shattered Griffin’s previous Big Ten mark of 5,589 and his 71 career rushing TDs is also a conference record. Dayne topped off his senior season with the 1999 Heisman Trophy and his second consecutive Rose Bowl MVP award. He was the 11th overall pick of the 2000 NFL draft and has rushed for 3,722 yards and 28 touchdowns in 96 career games with the Giants, Broncos and Texans.
35, Alan Ameche – Ameche’s nickname was “The Horse” for a good reason. He exploded through holes in the line with a gallop, and simply ran over defenders when they got in his way. Ameche had a superlative senior year by earning a third All-America honor, leading Wisconsin to a Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl berth and capturing the 1954 Heisman Trophy. By the time he had finished his career with the Badgers, he was also the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher. Ameche later made four Pro Bowls in six seasons with the Baltimore Colts, and scored the winning touchdown in the 1958 NFL Championship Game, usually referred to as “The Greatest Game Ever Played.”
40, Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch – Hirsch played only one season at Wisconsin but it was quite a season. In 1942, he rushed for 786 yards to lead the Badgers to an 8-1-1 record. Along the way, Chicago Daily News sportswriter Francis Powers wrote that Hirsch’s “crazy legs were gyrating in six different directions all at the same time.” The nickname stuck. Hirsch joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1943, necessitating a transfer to the University of Michigan. But he returned to Madison a quarter-century later when he became director of athletics at Wisconsin. In between, he enjoyed a Hall of Fame career in the NFL as a receiver for the Los Angeles Rams.
80, Dave Schreiner – A threat on both sides of the ball, Schreiner played for the Badgers from 1940-42 and was the program’s first two-time All-American. He once caught three touchdown passes in a single quarter – still a school record – and after his senior year, Schreiner was named Big Ten most valuable player. He likely had a future in professional football, but joined the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II and was killed in action in June 1945 during the Battle of Okinawa. He was only 24. In a letter written to his parents, commanding officer Col. Alan Shapley wrote that Schreiner “was not just one of my lieutenants, he was one of my very good friends. We all used to say that Dave was not just an All-American football player, but an All-American in all respects.” Schreiner was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1955.
83, Allan Shafer – Shafer was a Madison native who was so popular with his teammates that he was elected team captain as a 17-year-old freshman in 1944. He also earned the starting quarterback job for the Badgers, leading the team to wins in their first two games that season. That was followed by four straight losses before the streak ended Nov. 11 with a 26-7 win over Iowa. But the victory was a bitter one. Shafer, who had been sidelined three weeks earlier with what was described as a head injury, pitched out on the game’s first play and then looked for someone to block. When the play was over, Shafer lay motionless on the ground. He was helped to the sideline and rushed to a hospital where he died later than night. His jersey number was retired in 2006 and the university awards its “Living Memorial Scholarship” each year in Shafer’s honor.
88, Pat Richter – An All-American on the field and in the classroom, Richter was an excellent tight end and punter for the Badgers in the early 1960s. His 11 receptions for 163 yards against USC in the 1963 Rose Bowl remain game records. He finished his college career with nine varsity letters – three each in football, basketball and baseball – and went on to an eight-year NFL career with Washington. Richter spent 17 years as vice president of personnel at Oscar Mayer Foods Corp., and then returned to Madison to become athletic director at his alma mater. He retired in April 2004, and is a member of College Football Hall of Fame, the Academic All-America Hall of Fame, the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame and the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame.
Penn State, Purdue and Northwestern, not to mention former conference member Chicago, each have former players worthy of jersey retirement.
The Nittany Lions have had more than their share of star players over the years, including running back Lydell Mitchell (23), linebacker Jack Ham (33), defensive tackle Mike Reid (68), tight end Ted Kwalick (82) and 1973 Heisman Trophy winner John Cappelletti (22). Each of those players is in the College Football Hall of Fame, but none of those jersey numbers have been retired. In fact, every one of them was in use last season.
Likewise, the Boilermakers have a rich history and tradition, especially at the quarterback position with the likes of such famous alumni as Bob Griese (12), Mike Phipps and Drew Brees (both wore 15), Len Dawson (16) and Mark Herrmann (9). Purdue also produced such stars as end Paul Moss (80, the school’s first two-time All-American in 1931 and ’32); guard Alex Agase (59); running back Leroy Keyes (23), defensive back Rod Woodson (26) and fullback Mike Alstott (40), but again, each of those jersey numbers was worn by a member of the Purdue football team in 2007.
Northwestern and Chicago are no different. Junior linebacker Rejaie Johnson wore No. 48 last season for the Wildcats, the same jersey number once occupied by College Football Hall of Famer Otto Graham, arguably the finest player in the history of the NU program.
Chicago left the Big Ten following the 1939 season and dropped the football program at the intercollegiate level for 30 years. It returned in 1969 and now plays at the Division III level, but that still doesn’t seem to be much of an excuse for not having some sort of formal ceremony to retire jersey No. 99 in honor of Jay Berwanger, the first-ever winner of the Heisman Trophy. At least the Maroons have seen fit not to issue that jersey number in the recent past.
Among the worldwide luminaries celebrating birthdays today: TV actress Katherine Helmond (“Soap,” “Who’s The Boss,” “Everybody Loves Raymond”); rock guitar virtuoso Jaime Robert Klegerman (lots better known as Robbie Robertson); pop singer Huey Lewis; freshly minted Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Rich “Goose” Gossage; Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Marc Cohn (husband of ABC News correspondent Elizabeth Vargas); Emmy-winning actress Edie Falco (“The Sopranos”); Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson; actress Kathryn Erbe (Detective Alexandra Eames on “Law and Order: Criminal Intent”); French actress Eva Green (“Casino Royale”); and former Wimbledon champion Amélie Mauresmo.
Also a happy belated birthday to former Ohio State and current New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith, who turned 27 yesterday.
** Here is the answer to the trivia question from Thursday. There were actually two correct answers to the Cleveland Browns portion of the question. Head coach Paul Brown and quarterback George Ratterman were the first members of the Browns to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated. An artist’s rendering of the duo huddling on the sidelines graced the cover of the Oct. 8, 1956 issue. As for the first Cincinnati Bengals on the cover of SI, Brown also holds that distinction. His return to pro football as head man of the Bengals organization was trumpeted on the Aug. 12, 1968 cover.
** Some athletes will do anything to gain an edge, but this is ridiculous. It seems that some have resorted to using Viagra to improve their performance – athletic performance, that is. Viagra increases the effects of nitric oxide, a common gas in the body. The reasoning is that if the little blue pill can relax muscles and improve blood flow in one part of the body, what not in the rest of the body? The World Anti-Doping Agency is looking into it. And I’m not making this up.
** In a recent blog, CBSSportsline.com college football writer Dennis Dodd referred to Terry Porter, the official who threw the infamous pass interference flag against Miami (Fla.) in 2003 Fiesta Bowl.
More than five years later, Miami fans are still holding a grudge as evidenced by one of the responses to the entry: “I will not forgive Terry Porter, and Dodd has no right to tell me otherwise. I am a disgruntled Miami fan, and I will never forget that unwarranted flag. Why did he even have to bring up such an incidence? No reason to make the outrage return…” Forget for a moment that replays clearly show Porter made the right call. Even if you can’t accept that fact, understand that pass interference is often a spur-of-the-moment judgment call. And then, by all means, get over it.
** Dodd’s blog deals with a test for football officials. You can take it for yourself and see how you do by following this link: USA Football Officiating Test.
** I leave you with this thought as we celebrate the Fourth of July weekend: “This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.” To all of the U.S. troops throughout the world serving in harm’s way, stay safe and thank you.