Eagles: Retire the Numbers or Give Them Out

Eagles Brian Dawkins raises his arms in the third quarter against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, December 28, 2008. (Yong Kim / Staff Photographer)

Nearly 90 players were on the field for mini-camp drills with the Eagles this weekend, representing all levels in the professional caste system from superstar to invited walk-on.

For ten minutes of the first practice session on Friday, a tight end from Boston College named Ryan Purvis, an unsigned, undrafted free agent, was in an Eagles uniform for a tryout. Then the phone call came that he had been offered a contract by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and he trotted off the field to seek his fortune elsewhere. Maybe he got to keep a T-shirt or something but he didn't hang around very long.

Football is a game that doesn't lean much on sentiment, but the Eagles kept with quirky tradition this weekend by not issuing the No. 12 jersey once worn by Randall Cunningham, and, this time, by not giving out the No. 20 of Brian Dawkins, either.

The Catholic Church may have decommissioned Limbo, but in the Eagles' equipment room, it is still the place where some jersey numbers reside in the twilight between seeing action on the field and being officially retired.

There is some hypocrisy there. If the organization thought that much of the player who wore the jersey, either the number would be retired or the player would still be here. In the case of Cunningham, it is mere habit by now. No one would raise much of a fuss if some backup were issued No. 12 at this point, nearly 15 years since he threw his last pass for the Eagles.

In the case of Dawkins, who was unquestionably popular within the organization, it's a matter of being respectful and avoiding the storm of protest that would arise if some free agent noodnik from Central Nowhere were running around wearing No. 20. That's a bee hive the Eagles have no intention of poking.


Retire or give out #20 jersey?

So go ahead and retire it, already. Maybe the league doesn't like a lot of numbers being taken out of the rotation, but this should be a different case. Either retire it or hand it out.

The already retired numbers are: 15 (Steve Van Buren), 40 (Tom Brookshier), 44 (Pete Retzlaff), 60 (Chuck Bednarik), 70 (Al Wistert), 92 (Reggie White) and 99 (Jerome Brown).

 During the mini-camp, the Eagles also didn't issue the No. 69 of Jon Runyan or the No. 72 of Tra Thomas, but that's probably just a cooling-off period being observed. Those will be worn again. The Eagles also didn't give out Greg Lewis' No. 83, but you can't read too much into that.

For the camp, safety Sean Jones was wearing the No. 26 previously worn by Lito Sheppard, safety Byron Parker had Correll Buckhalter's No. 28, cornerback Ellis Hobbs was in Sean Considine's No. 37, and tight end Eugene Bright took over the No. 82 of L.J. Smith.

Life moves on, although not usually as quickly as do NFL rosters. The names change and so do the numbers. The Eagles hand out some of the numbers, keep others for when they are needed, and slip a few into Limbo. It must be quiet in there.