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15 Athletes Whose Numbers Were Unretired

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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)

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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.

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Big Questions
Who Was Heisman and Why Does He Have a Trophy?
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Brett Deering/Getty Images

On Saturday night, one of three finalists will be named this year's Heisman Trophy winner. But before anyone brings home the hardware, let’s answer a few questions about John Heisman and his famous award.

Who Exactly Was John Heisman?

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His name is mostly associated with the trophy now, but Heisman (right) was a player, coach, and hugely successful innovator in the early days of football. After playing for Brown and then Penn as a collegian from 1887 to 1891, Heisman became a coach at a series of schools that included Oberlin, Buchtel, Auburn, Clemson, Penn, Washington & Jefferson, Rice, and, most notably, Georgia Tech.

For What Football Innovations Does Heisman Get Credit?

Just some little trivial stuff like snapping the ball. Centers originally placed the ball on the ground and rolled it back to their quarterbacks, who would scoop it up and make plays. When Heisman was coaching at Buchtel (which later became the University of Akron), though, he had a 6’4” QB named Harry Clark. Clark was so tall that picking the ball up off the ground was wildly inefficient, so Heisman invented the center snap as an easy way to get the ball in Clark’s hands. Heisman also innovated the use of pulling guards for running plays and the infamous hidden-ball trick.

Any Other Shenanigans on Heisman’s Resume?

You bet. When Heisman found a way to gain an edge, he jumped on it no matter how ridiculous it seemed. When Heisman was coaching at Clemson in 1902, his team traveled to Atlanta for a game against Georgia Tech. Although Heisman was known for being a rather gruff disciplinarian, the Clemson team immediately started partying upon their arrival.

When Georgia Tech’s players and fans heard that the entire Clemson squad had spent the night before the game carousing, they prepared to coast to an easy win. When the game started, though, Clemson roared out of the gate en route to a 44-5 stomping.

How did Clemson crush Tech when by all rights they should have been ridiculously hungover? The “team” that everyone had seen partying the night before wasn’t really Heisman’s Clemson squad at all. He had sent his junior varsity players to Atlanta the night before to serve as drunken decoys, then quietly slipped his varsity team in on a morning train right before the game.

What Kind of Coach Was He?

Heisman worked as an actor in community stock theater during the summer – he consistently received rotten reviews – and allegedly spoke in a brusque, yet bizarrely ostentatious manner. Georgia Tech’s website relates a story of one of Heisman’s speeches he would break out on the first day of practice while describing a football: "What is this? It is a prolate spheroid, an elongated sphere - in which the outer leather casing is drawn tightly over a somewhat smaller rubber tubing. Better to have died as a small boy than to fumble this football."

How Did His Name Get on the Trophy?

After leaving his head-coaching job at Rice in 1927, Heisman became the athletic director at New York’s Downtown Athletic Club. In 1935 the club began awarding the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy to the nation’s top college football star. (Chicago’s Jay Berwanger won the first trophy.) Heisman died of pneumonia the following fall before the second trophy could be awarded, and the club voted to rename the prize the Heisman Memorial Trophy Award.

Did He Ever Really Throw that Iconic Stiff Arm?

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Possibly, but Heisman didn’t have the ball in his hands all that much. Even though he was a fairly small guy at just 5’8” and 158 pounds, he played as a lineman throughout his college career.

The famous “Heisman pose” is actually based on Ed Smith, a former NYU running back who modeled for the trophy’s sculptor in 1934. Interestingly, Smith went years without knowing that he’d modeled for the famous trophy. His sculptor buddy Frank Eliscu had just needed a football player to model for a project, and Smith volunteered.

Smith figured Eliscu was just doing some little personal sculpture and remained totally oblivious to his spot in football history for the next 48 years until a documentary filmmaker called Smith to interview him about the Heisman in 1982. Smith initially had no idea what the guy was talking about, but he eventually remembered his modeling days. In 1985, the Downtown Athletic Club gave Smith his own copy of the Heisman, and in 1986 he even received recognition on the televised ceremony. He looked at the four finalists – Vinny Testaverde won that year – and quipped, "Whoever wins the award, I feel sorry for you, because you're going to be looking at my ugly face for a long time." [Pictured Above: Auburn's Bo Jackson in 1985.]

What’s a Heisman Trophy Worth on the Open Market?

Quite a bit. A number of Heisman winners have eventually sold their hardware, and the trophies fetch quite a bit of loot. O.J. Simpson got $230,000 for his, and several others have gone for six-figure prices. The most expensive trophy that’s changed hands was Minnesota back Bruce Smith’s 1941 award; it fetched $395,240.

How Did Steve Spurrier Change the Process?

SEC fans are going to be floored by this one, but the Ol’ Ball Coach did something really classy when he won the Heisman in 1966. Instead of taking the trophy for himself, Spurrier gave it to the University of Florida so the school could display it and let the student body enjoy it. Florida’s student government thought Spurrier’s generosity was so classy that they paid for a replica for Spurrier so he’d get to have his own trophy, too. Since then both the school and the player have received copies of the trophy.

So Heisman Must Have Been the World’s Greatest Sportsman, Right?

Well, not really. Heisman was on the victorious side of possibly the most gratuitously run-up score in sports history. In 1916 tiny Cumberland College canceled its football program and disbanded its squad, but it had previously signed a contract to travel to Atlanta to play Heisman’s Georgia Tech team. If Cumberland didn’t show up, they had to pay Georgia Tech a $3,000 penalty, which was quite a bit of cash in 1916.

Rather than forfeiting the money, Cumberland scraped together a team of 16 scrubs and went to take their walloping from Heisman’s boys. For reasons that still aren’t totally clear – some say it was to avenge an earlier baseball loss to Cumberland, while others claim Heisman wanted to make a statement about the absurdity of the old system of using total points scored to determine the national champion – the legendary coach showed Cumberland’s ragtag band no mercy. Tech went up 63-0 in the first quarter, but Heisman kept attacking until the final score was 222-0. There are tons of hilarious stats from the game, but the funniest is Georgia Tech rushing for 1,620 yards while Cumberland only squeaked out negative-96 yards on 27 carries.

This article originally appeared in 2010.

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#TBT
Thin Ice: The Bizarre Boxing Career of Tonya Harding
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Al Bello/Getty Images

In 2004, the Chicago Tribune asked Tonya Harding about the strangest business offer she had received after her skating career came to an abrupt end in the mid-1990s. “I guess to skate topless,” she answered. In 1994, the two-time former Olympian became infamous for her ex-husband’s attempt to break the leg of rival Nancy Kerrigan. Although Harding denied any knowledge of or involvement in the plan—which ended with Kerrigan suffering a bruised leg and Harding being banned from the U.S. Figure Skating organization, ending her competitive pursuits—she became a running punchline in the media for her attempts to exploit that notoriety. There was a sex tape (which her equally disgraced former husband, Jeff Gillooly, taped on their wedding night), offers to wrestle professionally, attempts to launch careers in both music and acting, and other means of paying bills.

Though she did not accept the offer to perform semi-nude, she did embark on a new career that many observers found just as lurid and sensational: For a two-year period, Tonya Harding was a professional boxer.

Tonya Harding rises from the canvas during a boxing match
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Following the attack on Kerrigan and the subsequent police investigation, Harding pled guilty to conspiracy to hinder prosecution, received three years’ probation, and was levied a $160,000 fine. (Gillooly and his conspirators served time.) Ostracized from skating and with limited opportunities, Harding first tried to enter the music scene with her band, the Golden Blades.

When that didn’t work—they were booed off stage in Portland, Oregon, Harding’s hometown—she disappeared from the public eye, offering skating lessons in Oregon before resurfacing on a March 2002 Fox network broadcast titled Celebrity Boxing. Using heavily padded gloves and outsized headgear, performers like Vanilla Ice and Todd Bridges pummeled one another on the undercard. In the main event, Harding used her physicality to batter and bruise Paula Jones, the woman who had accused then-president Bill Clinton of sexual harassment.

This was apparently the boost of confidence Harding needed. “I thought it was fun knocking somebody else on their butt,” she told the Tribune. Boxing, she said, could be an opportunity to embrace her self-appointed title as “America’s Bad Girl.”

Harding looked up a boxing promoter in Portland named Paul Brown and signed a four-year contract that would pay her between $10,000 and $15,000 per bout. The 5-foot, 1-inch Harding quickly grew in stature, moving to 123 pounds from her 105-pound skating weight. Following her win against Jones, Brown booked her a fight against up-and-coming boxer Samantha Browning in a four-round bout in Los Angeles in February 2003. The fight was said to be sloppy, with both women displaying their limited experience. Ultimately, Browning won a split decision.

Harding rebounded that spring, winning three fights in a row. Against Emily Gosa in Lincoln City, Oregon, she was roundly booed upon entering the arena. “The entire fight barely rose above the level of a drunken street brawl,” The Independent reported.

Of course, few spectators were there to see Harding put on a boxing clinic. They wanted to watch a vilified sports figure suffer some kind of public retribution for her role in the attack on Kerrigan. Following her brief winning streak, Harding was pummeled by Melissa Yanas in August 2003, losing barely a minute into the first round of a fight that took place in the parking lot of a Dallas strip club. In June 2004, she was stopped a second time against 22-year-old nursing student Amy Johnson; the Edmonton, Alberta, crowd cheered as Harding was left bloodied. Harding later told the press that Johnson, a native Canuck, had been given 26 seconds to get up after Harding knocked her down when the rules mandated only 10, which she saw as a display of national favoritism.

Harding had good reason to be upset. The Johnson fight was pivotal, as a win could have meant a fight on pay-per-view against Serbian-born boxer Jelena Mrdjenovich for a $600,000 purse. That bout never materialized.

Tonya Harding signs head shots on a table
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There was more than just lack of experience working against Harding in her newfound career. Having been a longtime smoker, she suffered from asthma. The condition plagued her skating career; in boxing, where lapses in cardiovascular conditioning can get you hurt, it became a serious problem. Although Harding competed again—this time emerging victorious in a fight against pro wrestler Brittany Drake in an exhibition bout in Essington, Pennsylvania, in January 2005—it would end up being her last contest. Suffering from pneumonia and struggling with weight gain caused by corticosteroids prescribed for treatment, she halted her training.

In an epilogue fit for Harding’s frequently bizarre escapades, there was remote potential for one last bout. In 2011, dot-com entrepreneur Alki David offered Harding $100,000 to step back into the ring, with another $100,000 going to her proposed opponent. Had it happened, it probably would have gone down as one of the biggest sideshows of the past century. Unfortunately for Harding, Nancy Kerrigan never responded to the offer.

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