CLOSE
getty images
getty images

15 Athletes Whose Numbers Were Unretired

getty images
getty images

Right now, the New York Yankees swear that—out of respect for Reggie Jackson—you’ll never see another Bronx Bomber with a navy blue “44” sewn upon his pinstriped back. That's just one of the numbers retired for the ball club but, nevertheless, this honored sum just might come back into circulation one day. As these guys can attest, it’s certainly happened before.

1. FRANK TRIPUCKA

Position/Team: Quarterback, Denver Broncos (NFL)

“His” Number: 18

The Most Recent Owner: Peyton Manning

After Denver acquired Manning's talents in 2012, casual fans everywhere learned that the number he’d worn for fourteen seasons with the Indianapolis Colts had been long retired in Denver. Decades earlier, fellow quarterback Frank Tripucka guided the Broncos through their first four (rather rocky) campaigns. To reward such service, Mile High rosters went eighteen-less...until Peyton rode into town. “It’s perfectly OK for him to go ahead and use it,” said Tripucka, “I would be honored to have him wear it.”

2. GARY CARTER

Getty Images

Position/Team: Catcher, Montreal Expos (Major League Baseball)

“His” Number: 8

The Most Recent Owners: Marlon Anderson (2006), Chris Snelling (2007), Aaron Boone (2008), Jorge Padilla (2009), and Danny Espinosa (2012-2014)

The Expos organization nullified all of its retired numbers before taking off for Washington D.C., where they’re now known as the Nationals.

3. STEVE LARGENT

Getty Images

Position/Team: Wide Receiver, Seattle Seahawks (NFL)

“His” Number: 80

The Most Recent Owner: Jerry Rice

Rice signed with the ‘Hawks in 2004. What followed was an odd chain of events that Largent finally divulged ten years later. “The Seahawks,” he explained to NBCSN, “at the time had a President of the team [named Bob Whitsitt] who...called me saying that Jerry [Rice] wanted to wear number 80 but wanted to ask my permission”.

At this point, for reasons unknown, Whitsitt changed his story. “[He then] called Jerry Rice and said, ‘Hey, Steve Largent wants you to wear his jersey when you get to Seattle.’ So Jerry said, ‘Well that’s fine, I’ll wear number 80, I thought it was retired but if Steve wants me to wear it, I’ll wear it.’”

4. AUBREY VICTOR “DIT” CLAPPER

Position/Team: Right Winger and Defenceman, Boston Bruins (NHL)

“His” Number: 5

The Most Recent Owner: Guy Lapointe

Lapointe was loathe to part with the number he’d brandished while winning multiple Stanley Cups as a Montreal Canadien. Although five had been set aside to commemorate Bruins great Dit Clapper, Boston’s brass threw him that bone anyway. Uproar ensued—one reporter even accused the team of “robbing the grave” and “defiling a decent man who entered the Hall of Fame through the front door.” Ultimately, Lapointe had to take the ice as number twenty-seven.

5. WARD CUFF

Wikimedia Commons // Fair Use

Position/Team: Halfback and Kicker, New York Giants (NFL)

“His” Number: 14

The Most Recent Owner: Y.A. Tittle

When the Giants acquired Tittle in 1961, he requested fourteen, which had supposedly been laid to rest on Cuff’s behalf by owner Wellington Mara during the mid-1940s. It was unretired for Tittle, but it's now off-limits and honors both G-Men.

6. BILLY CUNNINGHAM

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Position/Team: Forward and Center, Philadelphia 76ers (NBA)

“His” Number: 32

The Most Recent Owner: Charles Barkley

On November 7th, 1991, Earvin “Magic” Johnson stunned the world by announcing that he’d become HIV positive. To show solidarity with the Laker great, Sir Charles rocked Johnson’s 32 during his final season as a Sixer—after getting Cunningham’s blessing, of course.

7. WAYNE MAKI

Position/Team: Left Wing, Vancouver Canucks (NHL)

“His” Number: 11

The Most Recent Owner: Mark Messier

Some say the Canucks cursed themselves by giving away a number that had last been worn by a 30-year-old player who perished in a car accident. Their failure to contact Maki’s family beforehand threw salt on the open wound, and Vancouver never reached the playoffs with Messier. Since then, they've kept 11 firmly off-limits.

8. LUIS APARICIO

Getty Images

Position/Team: Shortstop, Chicago White Sox (Major League Baseball)

“His” Number: 11

The Most Recent Owner: Omar Vizquel

Aparicio was MLB’s first Venezuelan Hall of Famer. As an homage, Vizguel—a fellow Tierra de Gracia native—copied the great shortstop’s uniform. He did so with Aparicio's blessing. "If there is one player who I would like to see wear my uniform number with the White Sox," he said, "it is Omar Vizquel."

9. WILLIAM HERSHBERGER

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Position/Team: Catcher, Cincinnati Reds (Major League Baseball)

“His” Number: 5

The Most Recent Owner: Johnny Bench

Hershberger committed suicide months before Cincinnati won its second World Series. His number was made off limits, but it was again made available in the midst of World War II. Many men donned it, including “Red Machine” legend Johnny Bench, whose stellar career ensured that five stayed unused after his retirement.

10. PERVIS ATKINS

Position/Team: Running Back and Tight End, New Mexico State Aggies (NCAA Football)

“His” Number: 27

The Most Recent Owner: NMSU President Gary Carruthers

The school’s 27th President, Carruthers was presented with a jersey featuring Atkins’ old number, which had been officially unretired on his behalf. “If anyone deserves to wear it, it’s President Carruthers,” said Atkins.

11. JOHN RIGGINS

eBay

Position/Team: Running Back, Kansas Jayhawks (NCAA Football)

“His” Number: 32

The Most Recent Owners: Various KU Players

Riggins’ off-field conduct may have been what drove Jayhawks brass to put 32 back into play. During an exchange at an affair at the Washington Press Club with Sandra Day O’Connor, the Supreme Court’s first female justice, he infamously jeered, “come on, loosen up, Sandy baby, you’re too tight."

12. BOBBY HULL

Getty Images

Position/Team: Left Wing, Winnipeg Jets (NHL)

“His” Number: 9

The Most Recent Owner: Brett Hull

For Brett Hull, taking on dad’s number was “an honor.” Manitoba’s original Jets are now the Arizona Coyotes. Back in their Canadian years, his father, Bobby, was among the most talented players this club had ever seen. 2005 saw free agency land Brett in Phoenix and, for the occasion, he continued a family tradition. “I want Bret Hull to have as much fun wearing No. 9 as I… [did] when I played with Winnipeg,” Bobby declared.

13. LARRY AURIE

Position/Team: Right Wing, Detroit Red Wings (NHL)

“His” Number: 6

The Most Recent Owner: Cummy Burton

The fact that Aurie’s jersey isn’t hanging from the rafters in Hockey Town’s Joe Louis Arena has really raised some eyebrows. It was retired in 1939, but, back then, the practice of raising it from the rafters wasn't common. In any event Aurie’s nephew, Burton, had no trouble slapping a six on his jersey.

14. MICHAEL JORDAN

Getty Images

Position/Team: Shooting Guard, Chicago Bulls (NBA)

“His” Number: 23

The Most Recent Owner: Michael Jordan

MJ got one heck of a sendoff in 1994. When “His Airness” decided to swap sports and take a swing at baseball, Chicago threw him a star-studded retirement party. During the ceremony, his iconic 23 was officially laid to rest, never to be worn by another Bull.

What happened next is common knowledge. Jordan’s anemic baseball skills became a national joke and, in 1995, he hung up his cleats. Amidst his NBA return, however, the hoops hero’s number was upgraded. Alas, 45 didn’t bring Air Jordan much luck, as Orlando embarrassed Chi-Town in game one of their ’95 Eastern Conference Semifinals showdown. Hoping to turn the tide, Jordan dug up his old jersey and brought 23 back from the dead. Though this stunt cost the Bulls a whopping $100,000, MJ was formally given his original number back that summer.

15. GERALD FORD (1913-2006)

Getty Images

Position/Team: Center, Michigan Wolverines (NCAA Football)

“His” Number: 48

The Most Recent Owner: Desmond Morgan

Our 38th President helped UMich snag back-to-back national championships in 1932 and 1933. Over sixty years later, Michigan supposedly “retired” Ford’s 38, which now belongs to linebacker Desmond Morgan. Ex-coach Brady Hoake claimed that the commander-in-chief’s loved ones fully supported this decision.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Cameron Spencer, Getty Images
arrow
Big Questions
How Do Aerial Skiers Perfect Their Jumps?
Cameron Spencer, Getty Images
Cameron Spencer, Getty Images

If you've ever watched an aerial skier in action, you know that some of the maneuvers these athletes pull off are downright jaw-dropping—and you've probably seen more than a few of these skiers land on their rear ends at some point. The jumps are incredible, but they're also so technical that one seemingly insignificant motion can drop a skier on his or her tail.

Given that the skiers can fly up to 60 feet in the air and come down on a 37-degree grade, it seems like just going out and trying a new trick would be a good way to break your neck. That's why you'll need one unexpected piece of equipment if you want to start training for aerials: a towel.

Instead of perfecting their flips and twists over the snow, aerial skiers try out their new maneuvers on ramps that launch them over huge swimming pools. The U.S. national team has facilities in Park City, Utah and Lake Placid, New York that include specially designed pools to help competitors perfect their next big moves. The pools have highly aerated patches of bubbles in their centers that decrease the surface tension to make the water a bit softer for the skiers' landings.

If you're an aspiring aerial skier, expect to get fairly wet. New skiers have to make a minimum of 200 successful jumps into water before they even get their first crack at the snow, and these jumps have to get a thumbs up from coaches in order for the skier to move on.

This sort of meticulous preparation doesn't end once you hit the big-time, either. American Ashley Caldwell, one of the most decorated athletes in the sport, is competing in her third Olympics in Pyeongchang, but failed to advance past the qualifiers on February 15, as she wasn't able to land either one of the two triple-flipping jumps she attempted. Still, it's this very sort of risk-taking that has brought her to the top of her game, and caused friction with more than one of her past coaches.

"Why win with less when you can win with more?" Caldwell said of her competition mentality. “I don’t want to go out there and show the world my easiest trick. I want to show the world my best trick, me putting everything on the line to be the best.”

You can check out some of Team USA's moves in the video below:

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
ERIC FEFERBERG, AFP/Getty Images
arrow
olympics
9 Scandals that Rocked the Figure Skating World
ERIC FEFERBERG, AFP/Getty Images
ERIC FEFERBERG, AFP/Getty Images

Don't let the ornate costumes and beautiful choreography fool you, figure skaters are no strangers to scandal. Here are nine notable ones.

1. TONYA AND NANCY.

Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding
Pascal Rondeau, ALLSPORT/Getty Images

In 1994, a little club-and-run thrust the sport of figure skating into the spotlight. The assault on reigning national champion Nancy Kerrigan (and her subsequent anguished cries) at the 1994 U.S. National Figure Skating Championships in Detroit was heard round the world, as were the allegations that her main rival, Tonya Harding, may have been behind it all.

The story goes a little something like this: As America's sweetheart (Kerrigan) is preparing to compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team bound for Lillehammer, Norway, she gets clubbed in the knee outside the locker room after practice. Kerrigan is forced to withdraw from competition and Harding gets the gold. Details soon emerge that Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, was behind the attack (he hired a hitman). Harding denies any knowledge or involvement, but tanks at the Olympics the following month. She then pleads guilty to hindering prosecution of Gillooly and his co-conspirators, bodyguard Shawn Eckhart and hitman Shane Stant. And then she's banned from figure skating for life.

Questions about Harding's guilt remain two decades later, and the event is still a topic of conversation today. Recently, both an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary and the Oscar-nominated film I, Tonya revisited the saga, proving we can't get enough of a little figure skating scandal.

2. HAND-PICKED FOR GOLD.

Mirai Nagasu and Ashley Wagner at the podium
Jared Wickerham, Getty Images

Usually it's the top three medalists at the U.S. Nationals that compete for America at the Winter Olympics every four years. But in 2014, gold medalist Gracie Gold (no pun intended), silver medalist Polina Edmunds, and ... "pewter" medalist Ashley Wagner were destined for Sochi.

What about the bronze medalist, you ask? Mirai Nagasu, despite out-skating Wagner by a landslide in Boston and despite being the only skater with prior Olympic experience (she placed fourth at Vancouver in 2010) had to watch it all on television. The decision by the country's governing body of figure skating (United States Figure Skating Association, or USFS) deeply divided the skating community as to whether it was the right choice to pass over Nagasu in favor of Wagner, who hadn't skated so great, and it put a global spotlight on the selection process.

In reality, the athletes that we send to the Olympics are not chosen solely on their performance at Nationals—it's one of many criteria taken into consideration, including performance in international competition over the previous year, difficulty of each skater's technical elements, and, to some degree, their marketability to a world audience. This has happened before to other skaters—most notably Michelle Kwan was relegated to being an alternate in 1994 after Nancy Kerrigan was granted a medical bye after the leg-clubbing heard round the world. Nagasu had the right to appeal the decision, and was encouraged to do so by mobs of angry skating fans, but she elected not to.

3. SALT LAKE CITY, 2002.

Pairs skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier of Canada and Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia perform in the figure skating exhibition during the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games at the Salt Lake Ice Center in Salt Lake City, Utah
Brian Bahr, Getty Images

Objectively, this scandal rocked the skating world the hardest, because the end result was a shattering of the competitive sport's very structure. When Canadian pairs team Jamie Sale and David Pelletier found themselves in second place after a flawless freeskate at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake, something wasn't right. The Russian team of Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze placed first, despite a technically flawed performance.

An investigation into the result revealed that judges had conspired to fix the results of the pairs and dance events—a French judge admitted to being pressured to vote for the Russian pair in exchange for a boost for the French dance team (who won that event). In the end, both pairs teams were awarded a gold medal, and the entire system of judging figure skating competition was thrown out and rebuilt.

4. AGENT OF STYLE.

Jackson Haines was an American figure skater in the mid-1800s who had some crazy ideas about the sport. He had this absolutely ludicrous notion of skating to music (music!), waltzing on ice, as well as incorporating balletic movements, athletic jumps, and spins into competition. His brand new style of skating was in complete contrast to the rigid, traditional, and formal (read: awkward) standard of tracing figure-eights into the ice. Needless to say, it was not well received by the skating world in America, so he was forced to take his talents to the Old World.

His new “international style” did eventually catch on around the globe, and Haines is now hailed as the father of modern figure skating. He also invented the sit spin, a technical element now required in almost every level and discipline of the sport.

5. LADIES LAST.

In 1902, competitive figure skating was a gentlemen's pursuit. Ladies simply didn't compete by themselves on the world stage (though they did compete in pairs events). But a British skater named Madge Syers flouted that standard, entering the World Figure Skating Championships in 1902. She ruffled a lot of feathers, but was ultimately allowed to compete and beat the pants off every man save one, earning the silver medal.

Her actions sparked a controversy that spurred the International Skating Union to create a separate competitive world event for women in 1906. Madge went on to win that twice, and became Olympic champion at the 1908 summer games [PDF] in London—the first “winter” Olympics weren't held until 1924 in France, several years after Madge died in 1917.

6. AGENT OF STYLE, PART 2.

A picture of Norwegian figure skater Sonja Henie
Keystone/Getty Images

Norwegian skater Sonja Henie was the darling of the figure skating world in the first half of the 20th century. The flirtatious blonde was a three-time Olympic champion, a movie star, and the role model of countless aspiring skaters. She brought sexy back to skating—or rather, introduced it. She was the first skater to wear scandalously short skirts and white skates. Prior to her bold fashion choices, ladies wore black skates and long, conservative skirts. During WWII, a fabric shortage hiked up the skirts even further than Henie's typical length, and the ladies of figure skating have never looked back.

7. TOO SEXY FOR HER SKATES.

Katarina Witt displaying her gold medal
DANIEL JANIN, AFP/Getty Images

A buxom young beauty from the former Democratic German Republic dominated ladies figure skating in the mid- to late 1980s. A two-time Olympic champion, and one of the most decorated female skaters in history, Katarina Witt was just too sexy for her shirt—she tended to wear scandalously revealing costumes (one of which resulted in a wardrobe malfunction during a show), and was criticized for attempting to flirt with the judges to earn higher scores.

The ISU put the kibosh on the controversial outfits soon afterward, inserting a rule that all competitive female skaters “must not give the effect of excessive nudity inappropriate for an athletic sport.” The outrage forced Witt to add some fabric to her competitive outfits in the late '80s. But 10 years later she took it all off, posing naked for a 1998 issue of Playboy.

8. MORE COSTUME CONTROVERSY.

For the 2010 competitive year, the ISU's annual theme for the original dance segment (since defunct and replaced by the “short dance”) was “country/folk.” That meant competitors had to create a routine that explored some aspect of it, in both music and costume as well as in maneuvers. The top Russian pair chose to emulate Aboriginal tribal dancing in their program, decked in full bodysuits adorned with their interpretation of Aboriginal body paint (and a loincloth).

Their debut performance at the European Championships drew heavy criticism from Aboriginal groups in both Australia and Canada, who were greatly offended by the inaccuracy of the costumes and the routine. The Russian pair, Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, were quick to dial down the costumes and dial up the accuracy in time for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, but the judges were not impressed. They ended up with the bronze, ending decades of Russian dominance in the discipline. (With the glaring exception of 2002, of course.)

9. IN MEMORIAM.

While not a scandal, this event bears mentioning because it has rocked the figure skating world arguably more than anything else. In February of 1961, the American figure skating team boarded a flight to Belgium from New York, en route to the World Championships in Prague. The plane went down mysteriously (cause still questioned today) as it tried to land in Brussels, killing all 72 passengers. America's top skaters and coaches had been aboard, including nine-time U.S. Champion and Olympic bronze medalist-turned-coach Maribel Vinson-Owen and her daughter Laurence Owen, a 16-year-old who had been heavily favored to win the ladies event that year.

The ISU canceled the competition upon the news of the crash and the United States lost its long-held dominance in the sport for almost a decade. The United States Figure Skating Association (USFS) soon after established a memorial fund that helped support the skating careers of competitors in need of financial assistance, including future Olympic champions like Scott Hamilton and Peggy Fleming.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios