Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Jed York says 49ers looking to honor Niner greats but not retire more numbers

Jun 20, 2019 at 1:43 PM--

Frank Gore, Patrick Willis, Joe Staley, and perhaps a few others. Those are the names of players many among the Niners Faithful would love to see have their numbers retired by the San Francisco 49ers. The last former player to receive that honor was Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice, whose No. 80 was forever taken out of rotation in 2010.

Rice's number may be the last retired, too — at least for a while.

The 49ers' 12 retired numbers are tied with the New York Giants for the second-most in the NFL (the Chicago Bears have retired 14). By comparison, the Pittsburgh Steelers, a storied franchise itself, has retired just two numbers in its 86-year history.

The 49ers have no plans to increase their total anytime soon. They are not closing the door on the possibility but are taking a Steelers-esque approach to honor their greats.

In September, Hall of Fame wide receiver Terrell Owens will become the 28th inductee into the Edward J. DeBartolo Sr. San Francisco 49ers Hall of Fame. That's the blueprint for how 49ers CEO Jed York and the organization plan to continue honoring the players most recognized for their contributions to the franchise's storied history.

"Retiring a number requires a pretty Herculean effort to get there, which it should," York told Matt Barrows of The Athletic. "With a ring of honor, I think you can honor more players that way. Again, if there's a specific reason to retire somebody's jersey, it doesn't preclude you from doing that."

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Numbers already retired, like Rice's and Joe Montana's, are safe. You probably aren't going to see a 49ers quarterback don No. 16 again, or a receiver running out of the game-day tunnel wearing No. 80.

There are also the logistics of retiring too many numbers and the problems it can create. NFL teams are allowed to carry a 90-man roster during the offseason, which means number limitations for organizations who retire too many. That's why you will often see a pair of players wearing the same number during offseason practices. The situation is less of an issue once rosters are cut down before the start of the regular season.

There could also be an issue should a prominent free agent come in and not be able to retain the number he wore with his former team. Barrows uses the example of longtime Rams receiver Isaac Bruce, who wore No. 88 during his two seasons in San Francisco rather than the No. 80 for which he is better remembered.

York instead believes the 49ers should simply take certain numbers out of circulation for a while rather than retire them indefinitely. He points to the college game as an example, where it becomes an honor for a player to wear the number of a former great.

"Everybody who comes into Levi's Stadium should know that Patrick Willis wore 52 for the San Francisco 49ers," York added. "There's no question about it. Everybody should know that Frank Gore wore 21. Everybody should know that Justin Smith wore 94, T.O. 81. But I don't know if you want to take those numbers out of circulation in perpetuity."

For now, future honorees will have to settle for having their numbers displayed on the 49ers' Ring of Honor.

Click here to read Barrows' in-depth feature for The Athletic.


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