Columnists, Sports

The Blue Line: Retiring numbers

During the first intermission of the final Boston University hockey home game against Northeastern, legendary coach Jack Parker’s number 6 jersey was retired. When he was given the microphone, he mentioned how he felt it was “against his rule” for BU to retire his number, as he himself was against the notion of retiring numbers altogether.

Parker stated that no numbers were retired at BU because he likes the idea of one great player wearing the same number as a great player before him. Even top players like Jack O’Callahan, Dave Silk, Jimmy Craig and Mike Eruzione from the 1980 US Olympic Gold Medal team do not have their numbers retired.

I somewhat agree with Coach Parker. The idea of an outstanding player being able to wear the number of another outstanding player is not only practical but also common.

The number 23, made famous by Michael Jordan, is quite common among basketball players. LeBron James wore number 23 in Cleveland, I’m sure in no small part because of Jordan’s influence to the game. (Although, LeBron changed his number, and has openly stated that no one should wear the number 23 anymore out of respect for the legendary Jordan.) The Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat have retired the number 23 in Jordan’s honor.

A very common number in hockey is 19, and for similar reasoning. Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic, captains of the Detroit Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche, respectively, each wore number 19. Yzerman was captain of the Red Wings for a record 19 seasons, during which the team won three Stanley Cups. Sakic was captain for 16 straight seasons, and led the Avalanche to two Cup wins. Both teams have respectively retired the number 19 in honor of their hardened captains.

Under Coach Parker, players like Jordan and Yzerman most likely would not have had their number retired. I believe that there are players who deserve to be honored in that extra-special way.

Jackie Robinson’s number 42 is retired throughout baseball, not just because of the tremendous statistics Robinson put up, but also because of the social impact he had nationwide. Without Robinson’s initiative, the game of baseball may never have seen some of its greatest players, like Willie Mays, Barry Bonds or Roberto Clemente. Perhaps even Parker would have retired Jackie Robinson’s number.

Jack Parker’s number 6 is the second number retired by the Boston University Terriers. BU retired Travis Roy’s number 24 in 1999. On October 20, 1995, Travis was injured 11 seconds into his first career shift in his first collegiate level game; his fourth and fifth vertebrae were cracked when he met an awkward collision with the boards, leaving him a quadriplegic.

The Travis Roy Foundation is dedicated to enhancing the life of spinal cord injury victims and families. Roy’s story, though intrinsically tragic, is incredibly inspirational. He has become a motivational speaker to high school and corporate settings alike, and is the author of his autobiography Eleven Seconds, chronicling his accident, rehab and perseverance.  

At Parker’s number retiring ceremony against Northeastern, Parker explained that Roy’s injury was the worst thing to happen during his coaching tenure here at BU. Roy has regained movement in his right arm since the accident, and waved to the crowd. The jubilant crowd responded with a standing ovation.

Roy’s story is an exceptional example of a number retired for a cause, not for how good an athlete someone is. Now, when anyone goes to see a game at Agganis Arena, they will see Travis Roy’s No. 24 banner hanging in the rafters. If they are unaware of who Travis is, they can simply Google him, and be introduced to his tear-jerking, inspiring story.

A Rutgers University football player by the name of Eric LeGrand was severely injured on October 16, 2010, in a game against Army at MetLife Stadium. LeGrand was paralyzed from the neck down, when he attempted to make a tackle while covering a kickoff.

Like the Travis Roy Foundation, “Team LeGrand” of the Reeve Foundation searches for a cure for paralysis. LeGrand was the first, and is the only player in Rutgers’s 144-year old football program to have his number retired.

I feel that numbers should more often than not be retired for stories as well as for athletic feats. Jackie Robinson was not only an excellent baseball player; he was also the start of a new age in baseball. The stories of Travis Roy and Eric LeGrand share the common themes of character, confidence and determination. And those are all more honorable than any statistics or records.

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