Saturday, April 6, 2013

Retire Jason Hanson's number?

Wouldn't it be something if the "Detroit Lions' brain trust", and I use that phrase loosely, because it seems to have become oxymoronic over the decades, decided to retire long time place kicker Jason Hanson's #4? No Honolulu blue and silver player could ever wear it again.

After all, the recently retired Hanson played 21 years for them, set a slew of team records, a few NFL marks, and even made a tackle every 10 games or so along the way. Not too shabby for a little dude out of Washington State with a pre-med degree. Jeez, I'd bet his mom was so proud. Her son's going to be a doctor. Oops. Change of plans. Jason decided he'd rather take his career chances kicking a ball amongst ruffians. Moms normally don't approve of such things. And despite their value to a team, historically place kickers have also been amongst the lowest paid players on NFL squads. Had Hanson gone on to indeed become a doctor -- it's anybody's guess whether he would have made more or less money over the last 21 years.

Nevertheless, if the Lions opted to retire his number, he would join some very elite company in sports that have had their #4s retired. Lou Gehrig of the New York Yankees. Bobby Orr of the Boston Bruins. Brett Favre of the Green Bay Packers. These are household names to any sports fan, and will be remembered forever. Jason Hanson might well be inducted into the pro football Hall of Fame someday, but it's a probably a fair statement to say that in 10 or 20 years he won't have the same name recognition as the others mentioned above that wore #4.

And why shouldn't the Lions retire his number? What else have they got to do? The team's still a train wreck waiting to happen yet again, and it would be a nice gesture for a great guy. Besides, it's not unprecedented. The Lions have retired numbers before. Six of them.

Dutch Clark's #7. He played in the 1930s.
Bobby Layne's #22.
Doak Walker's # 37. They both played mostly in the 1950s.
Joe Schmidt's #56. He played in the 50s and 60s
These were all great players in their time.
Chuck Hughes' #85 will never be worn again. Hughes was hardly a standout. Though listed as a wide receiver, he played mostly on special teams. Indeed, during his 5 year NFL career he only caught 15 passes. Not to be insensitive about it, but his number was only retired because he tragically died on the field of Tiger Stadium (where the Lions used to play) from a massive heart attack during a game against the Chicago Bears in 1971.
The most recent and likely most notable retired number was the #20 Barry Sanders once sported. Yet people often forget that before Barry, there was a guy named Billy Sims that wore the same number, and was a dynamite running back himself, before a tragic knee injury cut his career short. And before Billy, there was an electric cornerback named Lem Barney, a 7-time Pro Bowler and Hall of Fame inductee that also wore #20 for the Lions. Perhaps the retiring of that particular number could be thought of as a triple tribute, or triumvirate, to 3 great players.

Which brings me back to Jason Hanson. Should his number really be retired? Maybe, but he has one huge black mark on his resume. Over the course of those 21 years, Hanson had multiple opportunities to take his talents elsewhere to a Super Bowl contender as a free agent -- yet he chose to stay with the woeful Lions. This does not show good judgment.

You'd think a guy with a 3.8 grade point average in college would have had more sense than that.

Yet, in the end, there's a bit of irony. As is well known, Hanson went prematurely "bald". Perhaps poetic justice was served. After all, Lions fans have been pulling their hair out for the last half century.

Welcome to the follicly challenged club, Jason. It's a lifetime contract.

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