|Monday, May 13
Theismann's No. 7, Jurgensen's No. 9 remain off limits
ASHBURN, Va. -- The latest controversy involving Washington Redskins quarterbacks was resolved Monday. Joe Theismann, like Sonny Jurgensen, will remain immortal when it comes to his jersey number.
Ending a numbers game that stirred a lot of local passion over the past month, Danny Wuerffel took the practice field wearing No. 17. He had been wearing No. 7 -- Theismann's old number -- at previous spring practices, but a debate over whether new quarterback Shane Matthews could take Jurgensen's No. 9 prompted coach Steve Spurrier to rethink his policy and declare certain numbers off limits.
"When all the flak came up about the other number Shane was going to wear, I decided it was best to eliminate that one, too," Spurrier said. "No one's worn No. 7 in a long time, so we'll just eliminate all those numbers that no one's supposed to wear."
The Redskins have only retired one number -- Sammy Baugh's No. 33. But former equipment manager Jay Brunetti always kept certain numbers out of circulation. The untouchables were considered to be No. 3 (Mark Moseley), No. 7 (Theismann), No. 9 (Jurgensen), No. 42 (Charlie Taylor), No. 43 (Larry Brown), No. 44 (John Riggins), No. 49 (Bobby Mitchell) and No. 81 (Art Monk).
The taboo was broken, with only a mild outcry, when No. 3 was given to Jeff George two years ago. Revered quarterbacks, however, are a different matter altogether in the nation's capital.
Spurrier, hired in January, caused a stir when he didn't think numbers should be retired and that former players should feel it an honor to see current players wearing their jerseys. Spurrier had lived up to his word when he became coach at Florida, unretiring the No. 11 he had worn while winning the Heisman Trophy as a quarterback with the Gators. Since he left, the school has again retired No. 11.
Theismann wasn't even consulted when Wuerffel was given No. 7 at a minicamp in March, but he was diplomatic and told Wuerffel to represent the number well.
Then the Redskins signed Matthews, who has always worn No. 9 and wanted to wear it in Washington. The Redskins told him to call Jurgensen to ask permission for the number.
Matthews did, and Jurgensen said OK but warned Matthews that it would be a burden given the fervor of local fans. Later that day, team officials changed their mind and told Matthews to choose something else.
On Monday, Matthews made his practice debut wearing No. 6.
"It's an upside-down 9," Matthews said. "I'd love to be wearing No. 9, but that's in the past. I'll just sign my autographs with a 6 with a line over it."
Matthews said he hoped he could wear No. 9 and still tell fans that Jurgensen was the true Redskins' No. 9.
"I don't think what a lot of people realize from the outside is that athletes get attached to numbers," Matthews said. "And when you've been wearing that same number for 14, 15 years, it's kind of hard to wearing something else.
"People may think it's stupid, and it kind of is -- but it isn't. Athletes are superstitious."
Jurgensen is a close friend of owner Dan Snyder, so the No. 9 debate reached the highest levels at Redskin Park. However, Spurrier said he made the call about No. 7 and the rest of the unused numbers.
"That was my decision," Spurrier said. "You know, every now and then I make one around here."