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Heroes of Zero: Proposal Would Bring No. 0 Back to NFL Action

The Athletic is reporting that the Eagles have submitted a proposal to the NFL’s competition committee that would reinstate No. 0 as a legal uniform number. It’s not clear, at least to me, when the committee might vote on this proposal, nor is it clear which position(s) would be eligible to wear the number if the proposal is approved.

It’s been more than half a century since the NFL had a zero-clad player. The last one was Saints defensive back Obert Logan in 1967. Here are some shots of him wearing the goose egg:

For reasons that have never been clear to me, the NFL banished No. 0 from the field after 1967. I don’t know if any other team has proposed its reinstatement since then. (Anyone..?)

The NFL last adjusted its uni-numbering rules in 2021, when certain number ranges became available for certain positions. That change was the result of a proposal from Kansas City, which was running out of available roster number because of its large contingent of retired numbers.

The NCAA, after decades of disallowing No. 0 in college football, made it a legal uni number in 2020. The move has been popular with players and fans, with many schools using the number as an honorific to be earned or bestowed.

Still off-limits in both the pro and college ranks: double-zero. The NFL banned it in 1973, although wideout Ken Burrough was permitted to wear it on a grandfathered basis through 1981.

Personally, I’m hoping that the Eagles’ proposal is approved. Zeroes on the field (or court, or ice) are fun! And that brings up an intriguing question: If No. 0 is allowed, who on your favorite team should be the first player to wear it? I’ll go first: As a 49ers fan, I think quarterback Brock Purdy would be a perfect Hero of Zero. After all, he was Mr. Irrelevant, so what better way to symbolize that — and to underscore his unlikely star turn last season — than by wearing the number that symbolizes a whole lot of nothing?

Your turn — go!


Comments (62)

    If the same logic applies to players as it does to mascots, you’re probably better not wearing 0… Just sayin’

    I probably would propose that the NFL not retire numbers because of how position-adjacent each number is and return to the pre-2021 rules for numbers by position.

    I second they return to the old numbering format. As far as retired numbers go, I am not against it per say, but teams really need to save that honor for legit legends. The NFL Hall of Fame and specific team halls (or rings of honor, or whatever) serve as adequate honors to great players. To have your number retired seems the sort of thing that should be reserved for players in rarified air; Jerry Rice, Tom Brady, Pat Tillman… unless it is a player you’d actually build a statue for outside the stadium, you probably don’t need to retire their number.

    The honor is definitely cheapened these days. A lot of people get retired numbers because they were very good on a winning team and popular. Which isn’t appropriate.

    I’ve always thought that in every sport, the idea of retiring numbers is short-sighted. I understand the reason for honoring the best…but at what point in the future does it become a process of elimination and then there are not adequate numbers available (or we are talking about three-digit numbers). If all franchises take the idea that they will be around for more than 100 years, it makes sense to “honor” players, but not “retire” numbers.

    I’m surprised that the Celtics gave enough numbers left. I think putting names up in the rafters, and not numbers, makes more sense. The Lakers used to be more discriminating, with only arguably all time greats, but then added players like Gail Goodrich, Jamal Wilkes, and soon to be Pau Gasol. All great players, but not considered one of the top players of their time. At least USC limits it to only Heisman winners, but now with Lincoln Riley as their coach they may run out of QB numbers. ;)

    The Yankees (and perhaps other teams) are already doubling up on some of the 80s and 90s in spring training for rarely-used players.

    I’ve long thought that if retiring a player’s number is the way to honor him, then only one number should be retired at a time, and when a new honoree appears, the previous one’s number comes back into circulation. You’d still have a list of previous greats whose numbers were restricted for a time, but you’d also still have a full set of numbers to give out to future players.

    Pass. Not quite sure why, but zero always appears cartoonish and not serious. 52 man rosters and 99 other options, with position rules significantly loosened, no need for this.
    Save 0 and 00 for mascots or other fun team promotions.

    The Las Vegas Raiders count Jim Otto’s #00 (double zero) as their only retired number. They don’t do retired numbers, but it’s an unauthorized number now, so why not? I’d be interested if that number stays retired, or if it gets circulated because anything goes if it’s a currently legal and free number!

    The Raiders don’t/haven’t retired any numbers.

    From their Wikipedia page:
    The Raider organization does not retire the jersey numbers of former players on an official or unofficial basis. All 99 numbers are available for any player, regardless of stature or who previously wore the number.

    Now I suppose, technically, since nobody by NFL rule can be issued 00, you could say that it’s “retired”…

    Trivia (a bit of a trick question): what player wore 0 in training camp and went on to write a best-selling book about that camp?

    Paper Lion is such a great book. I absolutely love the Alex Karras stories he writes about. Need to sit down and read that again sometime.

    Great book, the movie with Alan Alda as Plimpton is also fun but not as good as the book.

    In the 2001 Preseason, Bryan Cox wore 0 for the Patriots. I also vaguely recall the mascot doing some sort of PR event where he switched his number to 1 (which Pat Patriot still wears today) so Cox could have the #0. Anyone else?


    To wear number 0, the player must meet this criteria: Be the lightest guy of the team that is under 6 feet tall.

    My team is the Vikings, that player for them is Duke Shelley. Duke Shelley will be number 0 for the Vikings.


    The Saints have never officially retired #8, but nor have they issued it since Archie Manning was traded to the Oilers. I suspect #9 will never see a Saints game jersey again either.

    As for zero, I don’t really care one way or the other, though I agree it looks amateurish.

    Agreed. Guess it has to do with not being used to it, at least for me.

    I feel the same about a linebacker wearing #2 , probably for the same reason.

    Yeah, it looks like high school. Oddly enough, one of the people who made it cool to wear single-digit numbers was Deion Sanders. Ever notice that he always wore 21 (or 37 in Baltimore) in games, but his practice jersey was No. 2?

    That was his number in college at FSU, and I suspect he might have worn it for games in the NFL if it was allowed back then. Another uni-interesting story I seem to remember about Deion is that he always wore a rubber band around his wrist. It started in college because at FSU they would issue players clean socks & t-shirts before each practice, wrapped in a rubber band. As Deion was getting dressed, he would unbundle the clothing, slip the rubber band around his wrist, and leave it there for practice or the game. When he got to the pros, he continued this practice, even going so far as to buy boxes of rubber bands from the FSU athletic department, so he could have the exact same ones he wore in college! I feel like I heard John Madden tell this story (if you can believe that!) back in the early 90s, when I was a Uni Watcher before I knew there was such a thing! I have not been able to confirm my memory in the modern day though, so if anyone knows more, I would appreciate some corroboration.

    I always thought an 0 went well with someone’s name starting with O. When Oscar Robertson, “The Big O”, went to the Bucks and had number 1, I thought he should have selected number 0. My last name has double oo in the spelling, and as a kid I always wished I could have had double 00s.

    John Devaney’s book on the 1970-71 NBA champion Bucks says that when the Bucks got Oscar Robertson, they offered him 0, appropriate for “The Big O.” He said no, that people would yell “Hey Oscar, you’re nothing but a big zero.” Instead, he took 1.

    Before You stop retiring numbers, get rid of the rule banning an eligible receiver from wearing numbers 50-79. just make the two players on either side of the center ineligible. As for three digit numbers NFL officials already have them

    Not a fan of in/eligibility by position. Unbalanced formations would make that difficult to track. 50-79 also plays directly into the rules in HS and college football in the US, which require 5 players numbered 50-79 on the line of scrimmage on non-scrimmage kick downs. Defenses also need to know whom to cover, and hurry up offenses would have an unfair advantage with motion and shifting.

    I’d be very interested to see how NCAA fans & NFL fans break down on liking the loosening of the number rules. My dad & I are much more into NCAA football than NFL, so guys running around with single digit numbers on Sundays didn’t bother us at all (actually, I kind of like it).

    The Eagles are always suggesting amazing rule changes, especially for uniforms. They were the ones who suggested the one shell rule be removed.

    I had hoped they’d requested it to bring back the kelly green and instead they went with a black helmet. Yuck. Hope they have a better reason this time around.

    The Eagles proposed that the one-shell rule be specifically removed so that then can wear the Kelly green helmet. We just haven’t seen it yet because it takes an extra year to design the Kelly green throwback uni and get it approved. Same reason the lions won’t get their new uniforms until 2024 but will debut an alternate helmet in 2023z So they threw in the black helmet just for this season because the black uni already existed. It will be replaced for this upcoming season with the Kelly green alternate helmet.

    “We just haven’t seen it yet because it takes an extra year to design the Kelly green throwback uni and get it approved. ”

    This is not true. A throwback is already designed, hence throwing back to an existing design of the past. If you are talking about manufacturing, then that is also not true, if they can manufacture a black helmet on one season notice, they can obviously do the kelly green one, ditto for the uniforms which get made new for players each year. The reason why the Eagles (as well as Bucs and Seahawks) throwbacks did not get introduced in 2022 was because they needed more time to get the retail end of it going. You’ll notice the Pats were able to do their throwbacks in 2022, that is because they already sold those red jerseys in retail even when not wearing them on the field.

    Ok I was slightly mistaken that it wouldn’t be approved until 2023, but I found the reason that the Kelly green uniform won’t be ready until then:
    “The Eagles are working with Nike to try to match a kelly green with the 1980s color and that takes time. That’s why Lurie said these jerseys won’t be ready until 2023. Nike doesn’t currently have the color in its palette with their new material. “It’s going to be as identical as what existed as possible,” he said.”
    Article says they decided to do the black helmet just for this season in the meantime.

    Maybe the Eagles should change back to Kelly Green, THEN ask for 0.

    Please bring back 00. Loved seeing Jim Otto back in the day wear that number.

    0 and 00 are both legal in the CFL.

    Here’s a cool thing: this is from the CFL’s rule on eligible receivers:

    “Eligible receivers will wear numbers from 0-49 and 70-00”

    So not only are 0 and 00 legal numbers, they are not adjacent to one another on the “number line”. 0 comes before 1 and 00 comes after 99.

    On Japanese baseball rosters, 00 is always listed before 0, then 1, 2, 3…, making 00 the lowest number.

    Do any other Gen-Xers like me have the “Schoolhouse Rock” song “My Hero Zero” stuck in their heads after reading this post?

    I can’t tell you how much I hate 0 as a uniform number in the NFL. Already stupid looking in college – a real, “hey look at me” number. And while I’m yelling for you to get off my lawn, I can’t stand the updated numbering system in the NFL. A compromise might be to allow WR into single digits but now almost everyone can wear them. A LB can be 0-59 and 90-99 (a DE too). WR 0-49 and 80-89. RB and DB 0-49. Way too far. Because single digits are “cool”, we now have kickers struggling to find numbers and they end up with cool QB #s like 12 or 19.

    “0” seems like a natural for a hockey goalie
    NY Rangers may eventually need it, as they are running out of tradional goalie numbers, with 1 (Eddie Giacomin), 30 (Hank) and 35 (Richter) out of commision and 31 (Igor) for the forseeable future
    Interestingly, in the late 70s, John Davidson wore 00 for a a year or two, but eventually switched to 35.

    Found a couple of nice images from 1960’s Johnny Olszewski, #0. (Note before being traded to Washington, he wore 30 and 36 for the Chi Cardinals).

    Playing against the Giants in 1960.

    Lions 1961 (a bad team photo was all I could find)

    Broncos in 1962

    Zero is not a number. A number signifies an amount. Even -1 is an amount. This is just silliness that shouldn’t be allowed.

    Going by that reasoning, there shouldn’t be any black or white jerseys because those are shades, not colors.

    And football numbers are not really numbers. They’re just identifying markers, they carry no numeric qualities whatsoever. So 0 works as well as anything else. For that matter so would letters.

    I would like to see teams, instead of retiring a number, give that number to their next star at the position. For example it would be cool if the Eagles passed a number down. 12 could have been worn by Randall and McNabb and now Hurts 60 could have been worn by Bednairk then passed on to Kelce or 82 worn by Quick and passed to DeVonta Smith etc . Make them legacy numbers

    Drew Pearson was the original Cowboys star to wear #88. Michael Irvin wore #47 in college, which I thought was cool because no other star wore that number. And though I loved Jim Otto, I am no fan of college players wearing zero. Yes, I’m an old fogey.

    I always thought there were 11 perfectly good numbers that could be used: 0, 00, and 01-09.

    I just realized 111 would also fit on even the skinniest jersey so I’m adding that to the list.

    0 would be a good start though.

    My college fraternity had reversible mesh tank top pinnies for intramurals back in the late 80’s/early 90’s. I chose 00 as my number. Still the best sports number.

    Feel it (0 and 00) is more suited to basketball than football but that is because I learned to watch the game by watching the positions with the old numbering system. Which I therefore still prefer. With basketball positions are less important, even unimportant, with big guys playing PG and smaller guys playing C. So they can pick any number they like, as long as it is one or two digits.

    Jim Otto’s name can be interpreted as “Aught-Oh” which means… “00” Also, his jersey is a perfectly syymetrical palindrome, as a mirror image of the back looks exactly the same either way.

    Otto is also Italian for “eight”, and 00 somewhat resembles a sideways 8 (I’ll admit that’s more of a stretch than your explanation).

    Not my favorite team, but Chris Olave seems like the prime candidate to switch to 0.

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