Denoting "Legends"

Submitted by Ace on May 24th, 2012 at 11:59 AM

Carlos Osorio/AP

Last fall, Michigan introduced the "Michigan Football Legends" as an alternative to retiring uniform numbers, honoring Desmond Howard before the Under The Lights game with a patch that now adorns the #21 jersey. As one of three Heisman Trophy winners to don the Maize and Blue, Howard was more than deserving of such an honor, and I'd wager that one Charles Woodson is due for a patch of his own in the near future.

I'm a fan of this, and hope that the families of players whose jerseys are currently retired—the Wistert brothers (#11), Bennie Oosterbaan (#47), Gerald Ford (#48), Ron Kramer (#87), and Tom Harmon (#98)—eventually decide it's better to see those jerseys once again placed in the rotation, their accomplishments recognized in a way the fans actually see every week during the fall*. If that happens, however, we'll quickly face the issue of diluting the honor; if all the retired jerseys become "Legends" and you add Woodson to the mix, all of a sudden you have seven jerseys with patches before getting to guys like Anthony Carter, Bennie Friedman, and (eventually) Jake Long.

Where do you draw the line? On one hand, there are a multitude of players who could merit such an honor; it isn't difficult to make the case for such players as Dan Dierdorf, Mark Messner, Braylon Edwards, Mike Hart, Willie Heston (though he didn't wear a jersey number, making it rather implausible that he'll be celebrated in this fashion), Bob Chappuis... the list goes on. On the other hand, the awarding of a Legend jersey loses some of its luster if half of the starting 22 is rocking a patch every year. The way I see it, there are two ways to handle this issue.

The first is simple and obvious: only give out Legend status to a very select few. Edwards and Hart, for example, were remarkable to watch on the field, made their mark on the record books, were wildly popular amongst fans, and in Braylon's case had an indelible signature moment ('04 MSU). Still, I don't think either merits inclusion among the pantheon of Michigan legends, even if the focus is solely on on-field accomplishments; this would be an honor reserved for truly once-in-a-generation athletes. Edwards is probably closer than Hart in this regard, but the shadow of three-time All-American Anthony Carter looms large. If we're going by this method, I'd give out Legend jerseys for the retired numbers, Howard, Woodson, AC, Chappuis, and Friedman. That's it, at least for now.

The second option, which I find preferable, is to be a little more generous with the Legend distinction, but be relatively selective when it comes to handing out those jerseys. While I realize this brings about the same problem as retired uniforms—if nobody merits a Legend jersey, you start running out of numbers in a hurry—there's also an easy solution for that: keep using the honored numbers, but only affix the Legend patch for a player who plays the same position as the legendary player in question. Raymon Taylor wore #21 last year even after the Notre Dame game, but the defensive back's jersey was patchless. With Roy Roundtree wearing Howard's number this year, however, Taylor switched over to #6 in the spring. [EDIT: Taylor actually switched before the SDSU game last year, but the point remains—this can be done.]

Using this method, you have a real drawing point for players from each position group—we saw this week with Leon McQuay III how much of a recruiting pitch these jerseys can potentially be—and also get the chance to recognize even more of Michigan's rich football history. It isn't hard to find a player worth remembering at each position group:

QB: Bennie Friedman (#27)
RB: Tom Harmon (#98), Bob Chappuis (#49)
WR: Desmond Howard (#21), Anthony Carter (#1)
TE: Bennie Oosterbaan (#47)
OT: Dan Dierdorf (#72) or Jake Long (#77) (I'd probably lean towards Long)
OG: Steve Hutchinson (#76)
C: Gerald Ford (#48) (Not sure if coaches would want a lineman wearing a number that low, but I'd love to see it)
DT: The Wistert brothers (#11)
DE: Ron Kramer (#87) (Fudged a little, but Kramer played just about everything)
LB: Ron Simpkins (#40)
DB: Charles Woodson (#2)

Again, not all of these would be given out every year, especially since you might be hard-pressed to find a quarterback who wants to wear #27 or a running back ready to rock a number most commonly found on the defensive line. I really enjoy seeing college players wear numbers that don't traditionally fit their position, however, so I'd love to see some of these, especially a star defensive tackle wearing #11.

Honoring Carter could also help Michigan finally free the #1 jersey from the grasp of Edwards. I realize Edwards funds a scholarship, which makes this a tricky situtation, but I'd hope he would understand the historical impact of Carter and his status as the patriarch of the #1 jersey tradition for Michigan receivers. Or, now that I'm done laughing, Michigan just does it anyway because it's the right thing to do.

This may be spreading the Legend concept a little thin this early in its existence—what happens, say, when we're far enough past the careers of Denard, Woodley, and the next generation of Wolverines?—but it does a great job of acknowledging players of every era, a point I find important for such a historically-driven endeavor. Now, has anybody asked Denard how he feels about wearing #27?

*I doubt your average Michigan fan knows about the Wisterts, which is criminal when you realize that three brothers all were All-American tackles at the same school. That's just ridiculous, and we should be reminded of this fact every time a Wolverine trots out onto the field wearing #11.



May 25th, 2012 at 2:50 PM ^

I think a combo of option 1 & 2 works best.  You only get the best of the best with patches and it allows you to grow for the future.  

I like the idea of expanding the use of the patches overall.  I think it's a good way to honor former players and reward current players.


May 29th, 2012 at 6:08 PM ^

I haven't really figured out how I feel about the legends jersey concept. I do think right now it's kind of haphazard and thus bound to establish some undesireable results. I'd rather have the numbers in circulation than retired, or semi-retired due to nobody meeting too-high expectations for it like with 1. But I also don't want them to replace established numbers, or to sit on the bench, or to become so exclusive that it turns off recruits who would be interested in that number for other reasons.

I don't like the idea of switching jerseys mid- or late-career. I think a player who starts having an impact when they're young makes their number their own. It's one thing for Braylon to ask to switch from 80 to 1 because he is stepping up from being the 3rd receiver to The Guy. That stuff is cool from time to time. What I don't like is Roundtree going to 21 to honor Desmond for jus this senior year. We have this picture in our minds of Roy Roundtree as a Michigan player, and he's wearing 12. What if Hart switched to 98 in 2007? Hart's 20, you know?

It also begs the question of establishing new legacies. What if in 2013 LaQuon Treadwell comes to Michigan, puts on 21 with the Desmond Howard patch, and then proceeds to break every receiving record in our books, winning two Heismans and a national championship in the process? /firstworldproblems. The lesser point here is what about Biakabutuka, who is a minor legend and wore 21 and is all but forgotten.

Biakabutuka brings up another thing: what about guys who want a certain number at a different position? Sam McGuffie didn't work out here, but he was really excited about wearing 2 and if I recall correctly Dee Hart was all about coming in and wearing 3. We could be creating a situation where a defensive back, say, wants to wear 21 in honor of his brother fighting with the 21st Infantry Regiment in Afghanistan (they came home in '09 -- just using as an example).

So if I'm designing this system from the ground up, screw positions and make it a thing that you can attain either as a freshman, a redshirt freshman, or a true sophomore. How it would work is a player who is interested in the Michigan Legends Program can apply to wear one of these numbers (current retired jerseys plus Benny Friedman plus 21 and 2) if they're available. He doesn't have to be the best on the team, but he must show exemplary conditioning and commitment to the program, must be in good academic standing, and must make the first team.

This leaves it open to the types of recruits who could be enticed by it, but avoids the embarassment of having a legends number on a guy who doesn't work out (e.g. JT Turner wearing Woodson's 2). It also provides the player with some extra incentive and a goal to work toward. Meanwhile it avoids having a player spend three years making a different number special (e.g. Denard and 16) only to have it changed to a number some other player made special. The odd David Terrell who comes in ready to play right away can win #1 and have that push him to live up to Anthony Carter's number his whole career. The Molk who wins the center job as a RS freshman could take Gerald Ford's number. The Denard who as a true sophomore leaps an established starter from his same class could, if he so chose, take 27. And there would still be plenty of time left to establish those players in those numbers. Meanwhile the numbers would circulate with less frequency, but when they were used, since you need a certain level of talent to earn a starting job at Michigan at one of those positions so early in your career, they'd most often be on a player worthy of carrying on the legacy

The program could include, provided he's alive, some sort of support or mentorship from the Legend who established that jersey. 

Furthermore let it be established that new Legends jerseys cannot be designated until 10 years after the player graduates or would have graduated if they left early, and the number shall stay in circulation until then (so for example if this was in place, 2 could be worn by anybody until 2009, when Woodson would be eligible to become a Legend).

As for the too many patches problem: I agree a clean looking jersey is preferable, but there's only limited space and honestly I'd rather there be a big oval Desmond Howard Patch marring the clean look than a corporate logo or even the Block M. Patches will creep; it is a certainty of sports uniforms. If there's a spot where only a big patch can go, then that spot will have to remain empty of other patches on the rest of the jerseys.